OCF 38: Other Symbols

Let’s look into the mind of the Church on symbols other than candles, water, and incense:

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 signifies that all are equal in the eyes of God.

While holy water is designated to be used at the funeral Mass, the pall is optional. In the States, its use is nearly universal. I can’t recall a funeral in which is wasn’t used.

A Book of the Gospels or a Bible may be placed on the coffin as a sign that Christians live by the word of God and that fidelity to that word leads to eternal life.

This symbol is rare in my experience. Not the explanation given here has nothing to do with the deceased being a priest, deacon, lector, or teacher. If a Bible were used for this, I would expect a sizable, hardcover edition.

A cross may be placed on the coffin as a reminder that the Christian is marked by the cross in baptism and through Jesus’ suffering on the cross is brought to the victory of his resurrection.

This symbol is much more common than a Bible. Catholics, even if only by “fashion statement,” identify more with the cross than the Bible.

Fresh flowers, used in moderation, can enhance the setting of the funeral rites.

Note the term: moderation.

Only Christian symbols may rest or be placed near the coffin during the funeral liturgy. Any other symbols, for example, national flags, or insignia of associations, have no place in the funeral liturgy (see no. 132).

Rarely have I seen these omissions to be a serious issue for the family and mourners. But the rite seems to cover the major possible symbols. Anyone with experience with other Christian symbols?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Order of Christian Funerals, post-conciliar liturgy documents, Rites. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to OCF 38: Other Symbols

  1. Liam says:

    When my cousin died in midlife from cancer, her 4 sisters and mother laid wheat upon the pall.

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  3. Robert K. Wear says:

    When my Father died a few years back, we buried him with in his dress uniform with full military honors. At the funeral, after the pall was placed on the casket, my sisters went to place his cover on the casket. The good father gently told us no, we can’t do that, but we can do this, and placed the cover on the Altar for the duration of the mass.

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