A pall is draped over a casket during a Catholic funeral.
A pall is draped over a casket during a Catholic funeral.

A pall is a white sheet of fabric about 6 feet by 10 feet that is designed to cover a casket during a funeral Mass in the Catholic Church. It serves as a reminder of the white baptismal garments a new Christian wears as he or she is welcomed into the fellowship of believers within the church. In a sense, the pall brings the believer full-circle, from the new life celebrated by baptism to the new life a believer experiences through physical death.

Remembrance of Baptism

When a Catholic family brings their loved one into the church to celebrate the Mass of Christian burial, the priest meets them at the back of the sanctuary to welcome their loved one, one last time, into the fellowship of believers. According to sfaparish.org, the priest may say a blessing over the casket similar to this: “In the waters of baptism N. died with Christ and rose with him to new life. May he/she now share with him eternal glory." Upon completion of the blessing, the pall is placed upon the casket, symbolizing the white garments the individual would have worn at the time of his or her baptism.

It is All About the Resurrection

Romans 13:14 commands believers to clothe themselves in Christ, and both the baptismal garments and the funeral pall represent this in a physical way. According to calgarydiocese.ca, the pall is also a sign of the hope of the resurrection of all believers, focusing those present on the blessing: “May he/she now share with him eternal glory.”

Identity of the Believer

Because the focus is on identifying the deceased as a member of the body of Christ, no other symbols are allowed on, or even near, the casket during the Mass. While it is acceptable for a pall to have a Christian cross on it as ornamentation (and many do) it is not necessary. A plain white cloth provides all the symbolism needed.

A Second Pall

During the Mass, the elements of communion are brought forth in the paten and the chalice. These are covered by a square of white cloth, also called a pall. This pall also covers a body, only in this case it is the body (and blood) of Christ. This pall, just like the pall on the casket, is intended to draw attention to the resurrection.

Pall is Removed and Reused

When the Mass ends, the priest leads the casket and the family out of the church to the waiting funeral coach for the trip to the cemetery. Before leaving the church building, however, the pall is removed and readied for the next celebration of the resurrection.