ASK FATHER: Can a catafalque be used in an Ordinary Form Mass?

From a reader…


Is it permissible for the catafalque to be used in an Ordinary Form Mass? The pandemic is making visits to cemeteries very difficult. I was wondering if the catafalque could be used in our November 2 Masses. If it is permissible, what prayers could be used and is it fine to have the catafalque be sprinkled with holy water and then incensed?

I cannot fathom why the pandemic makes visits to cemeteries difficult.   I’m trying, but I just can’t see it.

Use of the catafalque in the Ordinary Form.    If I remember correctly, the adaptations for the GIRM in these USA excludes the use of the catafalque when the body cannot be present.  So, No.  I don’t think there is a provision for it in the Novus Ordo.

Some of you might not know what a catafalque is.

In one sense, a catafalque is a platform upon which the body of the deceased is lain, either in a coffin or not.   In the other sense, it is a platform which can include an empty coffin or something that imitates the shape of the coffin, generally draped with the (black) funeral pall.  The catafalque is the symbol of the deceased whose body is not present.  As in the case of the coffin with the body of the deceased, it is flanked with 6 (3 + 3) floor candelabra with unbleached beeswax candles.   The priest will say or sing the absolutions over the catafalque as he would over the body of the deceased.

Since the catafalque is not used in the Novus Ordo, but it is used in the older, Traditional Latin Requiem Mass, perhaps just use the older Missale Romanum.

It is interesting how this situation we are in is forcing people to rediscover how and why things were done in yesteryear and how it still makes sense to do those things today.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. JPCahill says:

    I’m not sure why a visit to a cemetery should be a problem either but apparently it is. Last Memorial Day I attempted to visit my mother’s grave at All Souls Cemetery in Long Beach. Visiting was only allowed between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. There was someone at the gate to keep too many people from getting in. Did they think I was going to infect the dead? Or were they expecting a horde of people? Admittedly it can get a bit crowded on All Souls Day here in California. (Latinos seem to be more serious about caring for their dead than we of northern European stock.) But this was late May not early November.

    I just looked up their website. Hours are no longer just 2-4 but they’ve still got a list of regs. (It’s here in the unlikely event you’re interested: )

    Is a puzzlement.

  2. Gregg the Obscure says:

    current circumstances could make it difficult for someone both dependent on public transportation and at high risk for the infection to get to a cemetery

  3. NOCatholic says:

    Why would an open-air venue like a cemetery present a problem? As long as there is social distancing, there shouldn’t be an issue.

    I see the link from JPCahill is for Los Angeles diocesan cemeteries. Seems like California is full of overly cautious measures, like keeping churches closed long after other states have allowed them to re-open.

    Also, why the GIRM would exclude the use of a catafalque as a funeral Mass, is puzzling, given that the NO ordinarily permits more options than the TLM.

  4. Fallibilissimo says:

    That picture of the catafalque in Trinità dei Pellegrini is stunning. I’m assuming they don’t actually lift a sarcophagus made of imperial porphyry and that it’s only made to look like it.

  5. ex seaxe says:

    I see Fortescue said absolution over a catafalque is not required at a Requiem Mass, and quotes SRC saying it is optional. (31 Jul 1665 no. 1322 ad VI).
    It seems logical to me that in the NO we do not honour an empty coffin as we would a corpse, since the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (alas for those of us who have desecrated it).
    (Fortescue details at length the requirement for absolution over a catafalque at an Episcopal Visitation , IF there is no cemetery adjacent to the church over which the absolution should normally be pronounced)

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