ASK FATHER: Father says funerals without a pall on the coffin

From a reader…


I attended at funeral mass at a parish recently and I found it strange that the funeral pall was not draped over the casket for the mass. The priest wore purple vestments and used the paschal candle, but for some strange reason, the funeral pall was not used. The priest who said the Mass has a reputation to be very traditional in his ways. From being at funeral Masses at this parish in the past, this priest does not use the funeral pall in both the Traditional Requiem Mass and in the Novus Ordo. Is the funeral pall necessary, is this a liturgical abuse?

For the Novus Ordo, The Order of Christian Funerals states:

38. If it is the custom in the local community, a pall may be placed over the coffin when it is received at the church. A reminder of the baptismal garment of the deceased, the pall is a sign of the Christian dignity of the person. The use of the pall also signifies that all are equal in the eyes of God (see James 2:1-9). . . . Only Christian symbols may rest on or be placed near the coffin during the funeral liturgy. Any other symbols, for example, national flags, or flags or insignia of associations, have no place in the funeral liturgy.

132. Any national flags or the flags or insignia of associations to which the deceased belonged are to be removed from the coffin at the entrance to the church. They may be replaced after the coffin has been taken from the church.

So, in the Novus Ordo, a pall may be used and it is not, strictly speaking, obligatory.  Gosh! It’s an option!  An option? In the Novus Ordo?  I’m shocked!

That said, I believe there could be particular law in a diocese for the use of the pall.  That should be easy to verify where you are.  I imagine that particular law in a diocese would pertain to the Novus Ordo and wouldn’t mention the Extraordinary Form at all.  The Extraordinary Form is hardly noticed by diocesan liturgy offices, is it.

From what I can tell by consulting liturgical manuals for the older, traditional Requiem Mass, as often happens auctores scinduntur… authors are divided.  I’m not shocked by that at all.

From what I make out in Reid/O’Connor/Fortescue for the Extraordinary Form the pall may be used but it is not, strictly speaking, obligatory.   “A black pall is usually laid over the coffin…” (p. 461)  I think that, if one is available, it should be used.  On the other hand, Trimeloni says (my translation), “Things to prepare. In the middle of the Church: the CATAFALQUE which consists of a riser painted black or covered with a black drape….  When the body isn’t present, upon the catafalque there is placed a litter, that is, a raised level in the form of a mortuary casket covered with a drape.”  Trimeoni also says that it is permitted to place on it coats-of-arms, other insignia, flags, etc.  It seems that the older, traditional form of Mass was more flexible than the option-laden Novus Ordo.

So, much depends on local custom.

Is it an abuse not to use a pall in either Form of the Roman Rite?   Strictly speaking, I don’t think it is.

However, I believe that in most places these days – certainly in these USA at least – a pall, black in the traditional Requiem and white in the Novus Ordo, is indeed customary.  They should be used, lest their absence cause wonder… as it has in this case.

I suspect this will prompt fervent suggestions, additions and corrections from the gallery.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Four Last Things, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Father K says:

    I have attended and celebrated many funerals in my reasonably long life [turn 60 this March!] in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary form. I have never seen a pall used, be it white or black, usually in both forms a bouquet of flowers is placed upon the coffin or casket. It is worth noting that in Masses for the Dead in the Ordinary form a catafalque may never be used and there can be no ‘absolutions’ but this is permitted in the Extraordinary form [for example at the Month’s Mind Mass].

  2. David in T.O. says:

    Clearly, when it comes to the Holy Religion of Hockey in Montreal and the death of its lord Jean Beliveau, they invent their own rubrics.

    The Church was Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, a sort-of replica of St. Peter’s Basilica in miniature.

  3. Gregorius says:

    But then, can novus ordo white palls be used at traditional requiems when the church doesn’t have black?

  4. Father P says:

    The optional use of a pall on the coffin in the OF is a rubric for the US and is not universal. Don’t know the Canadian norms

  5. rdb says:

    I would encourage this person to ask the priest. It could have been something as simple as the sacristan taking the pall to the drycleaners and it didn’t come back in time for the funeral.

  6. padredana says:

    A black pall is also permitted in the OF. I did a fair amount of research on this, and nowhere in any document does it state the pall must be white. So, in my parishes we recently acquired black palls and they are now in use.

  7. Random Friar says:

    At a parish where I was stationed, our pall basically was threadbare and was not really presentable. The neighbor funeral home was nice enough to offer to purchase a new one for us.

    Palls can go around $150-200 on the lower end of the spectrum for a decent one.

  8. Simon_GNR says:

    Like Father K above, I’ve never seen a pall covering a coffin at a Catholic funeral mass, but I’ve only been to four such Masses in my life – all Ordinary Form. I have no strong feelings about this and the instructions I intend to leave for my own funeral will not mention a pall to cover the coffin.

  9. moon1234 says:

    This is an area where Catholics need to be specific in their wills or whatever modern document conveys your wishes when you die. I would not think it out of order for a family to own their own pawl, 100% beeswax candles unbleached, the type of Mass you desire etc.

  10. Andrew says:

    Communem usum attendentes et Ritualis Romani leges, dicimus: feretrum cooperiri debet culcita, nempe nigri coloris panno, in medio crucem albi coloris, seu opere phrygio depictam habente, et in quattuor angulis imagines morti allusivas (Ephemerides Liturgicae, 1899, Romae)

    Following the customs and the laws of the Roman Ritual we say: the casket is to be covered with a pall, namely a cloth of black color, that has a white cross or an embroidered one in the middle, and in the four corners images having to do with death.

  11. Gerard Plourde says:

    In Funeral Masses celebrated in the Ordinary Form, reference is made to the pall being symbolic of the white garment given at Baptism. Given that interpretation it seems to me that the choice of a black pall for Masses of Christian Burial celebrated in the Ordinary Form would be problematic.

  12. Volanges says:

    Like Gerard Plourde, I also find the idea of a black pall problematic in the OF Funeral Mass due to its comparison to the baptismal garment. I was specifically thinking of that 5 days ago when, a few hours after discussing black funeral vestments, I helped place the pall on my Pastor/friend’s casket.

    We always use the pall in our parish, having members of the family place it and remove it, but in my baptismal parish it’s optional and when Dad was buried I was told by the priest that it was my decision whether to have it on or not. It was also my decision whether to have the flower spray placed on top of the pall. Needless to say it was “aye” to the pall and “nay” to flowers on top of it.

Comments are closed.