QUAERITUR: Catafalque for Requiem in the Novus Ordo?

From a reader:

I am the chief sacristan in my home parish in a large Hispanic community last Sunday all souls day many parishioners came after mass to ask we did not have a false catafalque and recite the prayers of committal like an ordinary funeral mass.

I was always under the impression this practice was suppressed after the Vatican II reforms.

Is there any official prohibition of this practice?

Apparently this is widely done in Mexico and Latin America, in which the committal prayer of the Novus Ordo take the place of the traditional absolution in the extraordinary Rite.


Frankly, I don’t know if it was forbidden for the Novus Ordo.  I suspect not, but I may be wrong.

Let’s get you readers on this question.

Otherwise… just use the old Mass and remove the problem!

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  1. Josiah Ross says:

    I’ve been told that it’s forbidden, but despite nearly a year of looking for it, I’ve yet to find any documentation saying so. I would err on the side of caution and just not set one up.

  2. Joamy says:

    The Cathedral Parish in my Diocese does this for All Soul’s Day. I went to the NO mass last year and the Traditional service this year. I ‘m a convert, so can’t say if it has always been done this way.

  3. Anthony says:

    We used the catafalque with the committal prayers, along with black vestments, at the NO Masses this past All Souls. This was reintroduced here a few years ago. So far no storm troopers from the Liturgy Office to tell us to stop.

  4. Maureen says:

    Pages on the celebration of el Dia de los Muertos in Mexico seem definite that a black catafalque is set up in church during the Octave, and the church is usually open all night. Other Latin-American countries seem to do the same, all the way down to Chile.

    Also, in Mexico, black catafalques are set up in neighborhoods or at houses, usually with a white skull on one end. (Cool!) Sometimes one seems to be set up near a church, as a gathering point for various related activities.

  5. Geoffrey says:

    I’ve never come across anything in the Order of Christian Funerals that says either yay or nay on this one.

  6. Fr. Seth Wymer says:

    I have never heard that the catafalque is expressly forbidden anywhere, however, I have heard the old argument that if it was not expressly written in the new documents therefore it was forever and a day abrogated. I tend to use the reverse of that old argument, that if it was not expressly forbidden, then it is okay to use. So, in the parish where I am the PV we used it with black vestments and the black pall. The comment heard the most from the faithful, was it was so nice to see again.

  7. Carlo says:

    My parish has it up for the OF as well as the EF. We also have it set up for Vespers for the Dead on the Tuesday nights in November.

  8. EDG says:

    I agree with Fr Z’s final statement. Just use the old form and avoid problems.

    I may be going a little further than Fr. Z, though, because I say use it in English, Spanish or whatever is the local language. The Latin is there and can always be brought back, either in parts or in its entirety, over time. But what people are looking for right now is the meaning. The NO – I am finally getting bold enough to say this – has no meaning. Or maybe it has a different meaning, but it sure doesn’t have the one that these people, and most of us, are looking for. You know, all that old fashioned stuff about the Four Last Things.

  9. Joe says:

    Our parish had a Tridentine Requiem High Mass on All Souls Day with black vestments and a catafalque with final absolution for the second year in a row. The Mass was sung by the choir and was the Requiem by Gabriel Faure’, Op. 48. Awesome!

  10. Dan says:

    I am 61 years old, was an alter boy while I was in elementry school and lived right across the street from the Catholic School that I attended for 12 years and also the Church, in a rural community in Iowa. I do not ever remember seeing a \\\\\\\”false catafalque\\\\\\\” like the one that you are talking about here. Was this common in some parts of the country? I served very many Low and Sung Requium Masses, both funerals and daily masses. Do other people my age or older remember catafalques being used?

  11. Joe says:

    Yes, I remember them, right down to the beeswax candles. If I figure correctly, Dan, I was fourteen when you were born.

  12. Berthold says:

    The Ritual used for funerals in Germany in the 1990s did explicitly ban any substitutes for the coffin. I am not sure if this was a local thing, and if this is still in force. I know, however, at least one parish that at least some time ago happily used a catafalque, and I hope that they are still doing so now.
    By the way, in some small rural churches the catafalque was reduced to a small box of ca 1’6 by 1’6, stand on a ca 2′ high table, with candlesticks screwed to its sides. At least, I once saw such a thing, but unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me.

  13. Fr. J says:

    There is another priest and I who were just talking about this very issue. We were musing about re-introducing the catafalque and six candles into Votive Masses for the Dead and the six candles around the casket during the Mass of Christian Burial. However, we do not want to be disobedient sons of the Church and would like documentation one way or the other. Does anyone have that?

    Fr. J

    PS: Both of us wore black vestments for All Souls and the parish loved it. I wore them again for a Votive Mass of the Dead at the 1,200 student High School for which I am a chaplain, and they loved them.

  14. In the Dominican Rite (and I believe the Roman as well) it was permitted not only to use a very small catafalque if there was no room but also to use the “pannus niger”–a black cloth the size of a chalice veil placed on the sanctuary floor below the steps.

    I understand that even lacking that the ceremony, including the procession and sprinkling was done in Dominican houses at the weekly Libera. I entered the order after 1970 but an older priest I know remembers the practice of the Libera in the 1950s–without a catafalque, they processed in a circle with the celebrant sprinkling the floor!

  15. Fr Christopher Back says:

    If my memory serves me right, the use of a wooden catafalque for prayers after a Requiem in the absence of a body could also take the form of the Funeral Pall simply lying on the ground (with or without the six candles) and, if necessity or exigence demanded it, a simple cross formed out of a stole and maniple sufficed. Of course, history provides us with descriptions and pictures of the most enormous faux catafalques, many of them towering up twenty or thirty feet.
    I am also moderately sure that I have seen a rubric discontinuing the practice in the Novus rdo. Its reintroduction into common use today would seem to be admirable.

    Fr Christopher Back

  16. Joe says:

    Father, I think you have addressed this elsewhere, but if one celebrated a Tridentine Mass or EF on Sunday, then it was not All Souls, was it?

  17. Franzjosf says:

    Fr. J: About a year ago I saw parts of a Novus Ordo funeral Mass televised from St. Stephan’s Cathedral, Vienna. The vestments and pall were violet and there were six unbleached candles around the coffin; there was no Pascal Candle. I don’t know if they have an indult or if one is needed.

  18. hugh says:

    Fr J. I know that the six candels and the black pall are permitted for the mass of christian burial. In which the prayers of comittal are said after the communion prayer and before the final blessing begining with the incensation and sprinklin of the holy water. As for the false caltafalque during votive masses and all souls days i dont know.

  19. Fr. J says:

    What would the citation be for the six candles. The pall is easy, because that can match the funeral vesture, which the modern GIRM says can be violet, white or black.

  20. Fr Ray Blake says:

    The key here should be “pastoral necessity or sensitivity”, which is the central phrase in most Ordinary Form funeral rites.
    As a newly ordained deacon I assisted at the funeral of a victim of an IRA bombing, the undertakers told me the full sized coffin contained old telephone directories and part of a hand, which was identified by a signet ring. For the family friends in was necessary, they wanted the full funeral rites.
    Pastoral necessity or sensitivity would indicate that where it is not possible for a body to present a reasonable substitute should be made, a cenotaph or catafalque, seems a sensitive alternative or the “pannus niger” to symbolise a whole cemetery.
    Incidently the “pannus niger” was often used to fulfill the rites of a visitation when a bishop was unable to visit a cemetery.

  21. Sacerdos Vagans says:

    Like others here I remember the use of the empty catafalque and absolutions “absente corpore” being forbidden but cannot now for the life of me locate the relevant document. It must have been prior to November 1967, as I was assisting a friend in a French country parish at All Souls that year, and recall the disappointment of the good ladies who had brought out the traditional bier only to be told to put it away again because Rome had decreed it was no longer to be used except for actual funerals.

  22. J. Basil Damukaitis says:

    As I am told, in the Old Rite, the ritual assumes the deceased is present (body and soul) and in the new rite, the deceased is acknowledged as no longer physically (body and soul) present. This is why a catafalque was used during the requiem Masses.
    Anyone confirm or deny?

  23. Maureen says:

    You know, it will be reallllllly eeenteresting if it turns out that the forbidding of catafalques is yet another hermeneutic of discontinuity urban legend, created by overzealous and well-meaning people who thought innocent ancient forms of solemnity must be stamped out.

    Equally, if it really was a really real Vatican decree and not just discussions by professors or certain members of the Council, it’d be interesting to see the actual wording, as opposed to the promulgated translations.

  24. Fr. J says:

    So far, there have beenn memories and suppositions, but no texts. In order to make a case one way or the other, texts are needed. I can’t seem to find anything one way or the other…and the liturgy people in my diocese didn’t even know what a catafalque was, let alone whether it could still be used!! LOL!

    Fr. J

  25. Josiah Ross says:

    So we have silence on this then?
    I guess it falls in the same category as maiples, pontifical gloves, and unbleached candles: A long held tradition that is no longer specified, but is not expressly forbidden and still kept in some places.

  26. Joe says:

    I think Josiah has it figured out! Perhaps it ultimately comes down to tradition once practiced, now lost by lack of use. Fortunately we have some who still remember. I find it astounding in Fr. J’s comments that his diocesan liturgy people “didn’t know what a catafalque was”; gives new meaning to the word ignorance.

  27. From a careful reading it seems that that the Order for Christian Funerals does not allow for the use of a catafalque. In cases where the body is not present (or a part thereof) the rites before, during, and after the Mass that focus on the body are omitted and the Mass follows it’s regular course. The reason for this is that the in the new rite these actions focus on the actual physical body of the deceased, not the moral body of the deceased. Also, and this gets to the heart of the matter, the prayers at the end of the funeral Mass are not considered an “absolution” but a “rite of commendation.” To say the prayers of commendation with an empty casket or catafalque makes no sense. In the ideology of the rite there a catafalque just doesn’t come into play so it isn’t mentioned. The focus of the prayer is very different. A comparison of the two rites will show this. It is consistant with the false modern theological notion that few really sin and everyone goes directly to heaven, bypassing purgatory.

    In the EF of the rite if the actual body of the deceased could not be present the catafalque was used to signify its moral presence so that the absolution could be carried out and the deceased would not be deprived thereof. The absolution could thus be prayed whenever the rubrics allowed, for example at a votive Mass for the dead, benefitting the deceased for whom it was prayed. The absolution or Libera as it was called was often prayed as a seperate rite apart from Mass. The faithful could request to have a Mass, a Libera, or both said for the dead. Now, under Summorum Pontificum, these practices can be revived.

    So, unless I missed something in the Order of Christian Funerals, the notion of a catafalque just isn’t present. It is neither required nor forbidden… it isn’t even mentioned. Can a catafalque be used? It can probably be there as a symbol, but the ceremonies cannot be carried out in the OF since the rubrics are clear that if the physical body (or at least a part thereof) is not present they are ommitted.

    Perhaps one solution is the celebration of a Mass for the Dead in the OF followed by a devotion such as the Libera in the EF.

  28. Remember, the Order for Christian Funerals does not have an Absolution but a Commendation. They are two very different things. This is imperative to understanding the difference between the OF and EF funeral rites.

  29. Joe says:

    With all due respect to Fr. Bailey I think we are talking about two different things here. My impression was that the discussion concerned the use of the catafalque after a Tridentine Requem High Mass on All Souls Day for the deceased in which case of course there would be no body present. In my home parish prior to the beginning of the Mass the celebrant read the names of those deceased during the previous year. A brief excerpt from a handout stated the following; “If a final absolution follows the Mass, the catafalque in the aisle grabs one’s visual attention. The catafalque is a visual representation of the “moral presence” of the deceased whose bodies are not physically present. It is surrounded by candles, preferably unbleached, hence the orange color”. I don’t think there is any argument about the use of a catafalque in the NO. If I am in error about this someone please enlighten me.

  30. Hugh says:

    If it does turn out to be forbidden, then perhaps the title of this post be slightly altered to: “Requiem for Catafalque in the Novus Ordo”.

  31. Paul says:

    I just noticed something in the British Order of Christian Funerals. I’m not sure how much this version varies from the American or indeed the Latin as I have access to neither, but in the British version number 241 reads: “In cases where the body of the deceased has not been recovered…the funeral liturgy can be held in the absence of the body. The Easter candle may stand in the place of the catafalque, and may be sprinkled and incensed at those points in the rite when the coffin would have been so reverenced.”

    The idea of using the Easter candle has not been mentioned in this discussion so far, and perhaps it wouldn’t appeal to the sensibilities of those who comment on this site. We should though (as Fr Z would always remind us) note the grammar of the final sentence: “MAY stand in place of the catafalque”. This suggests to me that the catafalque could be used in the same situation. Indeed from the wording you could say that the catafalque is the ordinary form and the use of the Easter candle an exceptional, extraordinary form.

  32. Joe,

    Since you asked to be enlightened if you are in error, allow me to point out the following: The question posed to him makes no reference to rite. However, careful reading of the question shows that it was a OF Mass since it was celebrated on Sunday Nov. 2nd. In the OF All Souls Day is not transferred. If it were a Tridentine Mass for All Souls Day it would have taken place on Monday, November 3rd. In the EF All Souls Day is transferred to the following Monday if it falls on a Sunday. Also, following the quotation of the question, Fr. Z. comments that he doesn’t know if the catafalque was forbidden in the OF but that he suspects not. Thus the subject of the post is clearly about whether or not the catafalque may be used in the OF. Finally, there is no question as to whether or not the catafalque may be used in the EF: It may always be used and the Absolution given provided that the preceeding Mass was that pro Defunctis.

  33. Paul,

    I quickly checked the US edition and didn’t find that rubric. If it is there that changes things. While the rubric could be read to mean that the Paschal Candle may stand in the PLACE where the catafalque formerly was I think your interpretation is the more likely: that the Paschal Candle may stand in for or replace the catafalque. Thus, as you say, since the Paschal Candle is replacing the catafalque then the catafalque could be used in the EF and is, indeed, the norm.

    What we need is someone who has the Ordo Exsequiarum to read the rubrics and let us know. I neither have the book nor sufficient skill in Latin.

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