Thursday, April 16, 2009


I know it’s Easter Week but there seems to be a rash of fathers of priests dying of late so funeral symbolism seems to be on my mind. I remember when I was young the rites were explained a bit more in depth in the ceremony but now are a little bit more subtle.

The body is met at the entrance to the church and casket is sprinkled with holy water. This is a reference to the person’s baptism. The end of the prayer at the blessing of the water at baptism reads, “May all those who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with Him to newness of life.” The “fullness of the symbol” if you will takes place when the person being baptized is completely submerged. This is likened to being buried with Jesus in the tomb, we dying to death as it were. When we come out of the water then as new creatures in Christ we resurrect with Him to newness of life. During the opening rites of a funeral then when the casket is sprinkled these words are said, “In baptism N. died with Christ, may s/he also share with Him eternal life.”

The next thing that takes place that is currently devoid (and rightly so) of any commentary is placing of the pall which is a large white cloth that covers the entire casket. It is often somewhat ornamented or has on it some Christian symbol. After a person is baptized they are often dressed in a white robe and this prayer or one similar is said, “N., you have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. Receive this baptismal garment and bring it unstained to the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that you may have everlasting life.” The pall then is a reflection of that first white garment and a sign of the person’s dignity as a son or daughter of God.

The casket is then carried into the church. This is not done arbitrarily. A lay person will be brought in feet first, a priest however will have his head nearest the altar. I’m not certain why but I have my hunches. I would imagine it is feet first for those who stood before the altar for all his life and for a priest it represents his standing before the congregation leading them in the worship of God. That’s my guess anyway. If anybody KNOWS why I’d appreciate knowing as I’ve not found anything.


Anonymous said...

Question - HOW do you know which end is feet & which is head when they are in the casket? Are there markings on the outside of the casket?

Fr. V said...


The Buffalo said...

It is a foreshadowing of the Second Coming.

It is the same reason why in traditional (read: VERY old) Catholic cemeteries, the laity were buried with their feet towards the east and the clergy, towards the west. It also is the same idea from which the ancient practice of orienting altars towards the east came from.

To get it, you have to picture everybody standing straight up from their position. At the Second Coming, when all will be raised, the laity will rise facing Christ coming from the east (think sunrise - or "Son-rise") to greet him and/or face Him for eternal judgment. The clergy, as they are in persona Christi, rise to face God’s people, being oriented as the coming Christ will. While I assume they too will need to both greet Jesus and be judged, it is ultimately a tip to the understanding that they are priests FOREVER, acting even in the world to come in the person of Christ. (Hence the ontological change) While there are some theological problems with the reasoning, to understand it, you have to appreciate the symbolism of it.

And so, It is the same concept at funerals. Should you be mid-funeral and the Parousia happen to hit, 1)You’ll need to change your shorts but 2) and more importantly, everyone will by facing in the right direction – a people rising to greet their salvation at the altar.

Do I get a free ‘Ale Buck’? (The official bonus point currency of Adam’s Ale?)

Anonymous said...

Fr. thanks so much for the info. Please continue to tell us the whys and the wheres. If I once knew them, I have long ago forgotten. We all need renewal.

Sharon said...

In my little corner of Australia, can't say about the rest of the place, the coffin is brought straight into the church and there is no pall.

Fr. V said...



And I like Ale Buck - might have to give that a go.

For now - here's a pint to you!

Odysseus said...

-1)You’ll need to change your shorts-

No, because you will suddenly discover that you are wearing "glorified shorts" which never need to be changed!

RAnn said...

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