Catholic Funeral Signs and Symbols

The funeral liturgy emphasizes our faith in Jesus’ victory over death and our hope in resurrection, even as we mourn our temporary separation from a loved one.  We believe that death is not the end, but the beginning of a perfect, permanent life with Christ in heaven.  Through the many ceremonies and symbols that are part of our faith, we find hope in the midst of our tears.  To help make the funeral liturgy more consoling and understandable, we have provided some explanations of these parts of the liturgy.

  • Symbols of Christian Life — A symbol of Christian life, such as a bible, a book of the gospels, or a cross may be placed on the coffin as a sign that the Christian is marked, in Baptism, and through Jesus’ victory over death is brought to eternal life.
  • Sprinkling of the Casket with Holy Water — We share in the Lord’s death and resurrection through the waters of our baptism.  The same cleansing waters of baptism, that made us sons and daughters of God and filled us with the Holy Spirit, are sprinkled over the deceased to remind us of the grace and hope that we have in Christ Jesus our Lord and God’s power of our mortal and flawed nature.
  • Placing of the Pall — The funeral pall points back to the white garment given to us at our Baptism and symbolizes our life in Christ.  It is draped over the coffin at the beginning of the liturgy, usually by family members.
  • The Easter or Paschal Candle — The Easter candle is lit to symbolize the light of the risen Christ and our belief that He has conquered the darkness of sin and death.  This candle stands in the sanctuary space to greet the body and to remind us that our loved one, through his or her death, shares in the victory of Jesus over these powers of darkness.
  • Incense and the Final Commendation — The last ceremony at the Funeral Mass is a rite of final farewell or commendation.  During this, the Priest or Deacon offers prayer for the deceased and those who mourn, for the deceased that he or she may be granted entrance into paradise and for the mourners that they be granted comfort.  Oftentimes, incense is used during this rite as a sign of our prayers rising up to God the most High.