Placing the Funeral Pall...Paul Turner
The placing of the pall is a most tender moment in the funeral Mass.
When the coffin enters the church, the priest sprinkles it with holy water.
Then a large white cloth, the pall, may be placed upon it in silence. The rubrics permit this gesture "if it is the custom."
Most parishes reuse the same pall for each funeral. Some of them match the decor of the church or the vestment of the presider.
The pall has two meanings, both deriving from the New Testament.
- First, the pall recalls the baptismal garment. At baptism Catholics each receive a white garment as a sign of their Christian dignity. They are instructed to bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.
- The garment recalls Revelation 3:4-5, which announces that those who have not fallen to sin, who have not "soiled their garments," will walk in white in glory. The names of those clothed in white, the passage continues, will never be erased from the book of the living. The funeral pall, then, reclothes the body in baptismal white to stir up our hopes in the resurrection.
- Second, the pall signifies equality. The letter of James (2:1-9) discourages favoritism. It challenges people who form judgments based on how someone is dressed. The funeral pall clothes every deceased Christian in the same garment. Christians do not approach heaven trying to pass ourselves off as better than others by the garment we wear. We all wear the same uniform before our all-knowing maker and judge.
The pall may be placed on the coffin by family, friends, or the priest. In many places the employees of the funeral home place the pall. Their assistance may simplify the proceedings, but it robs the family of a final tender gesture — clothing their loved ones in the garments they will wear before the throne of God. When the deceased has been cremated, the pall is not used. During a funeral, a national flag should not be placed on the coffin in place of the pall.