What’s the Purpose of a Funeral Pall?

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Are you working on plans for your own funeral ceremony or organizing a service for a loved one? You’re probably facing a list of questions about caskets, flower arrangements, and other elements, such as funeral palls.

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Funeral palls serve a religious purpose and are included primarily as part of Christian traditions for funeral ceremonies. Here, we outline important details to consider before buying a funeral pall.

What’s a Funeral Pall? 

A funeral pall, or mort-cloak or death cloak, is a long cloth used to cover any type of casket during funeral ceremonies.

Color

White-colored funeral palls cover caskets. Palls, historically black or multicolored, often contain decorations. Black is the color of grief and pain in experiencing death and loss and was seen as an appropriate color for the pall. 

Today, many funeral palls are white to symbolize purity — reminiscent of a person’s baptism ceremony. 

Though most people prefer white palls, there is no hard-and-fast rule regarding which color you can use and many funeral supply stores offer several colors.

Symbols and designs

Depending on the type of funeral you’re hosting or organizing, you may not find specific symbols and designs for a pall. However, Catholic tradition states that the Order of Christian Funerals determines the guidelines for funeral ceremonies, including funeral palls.

The guidelines offer very few restrictions on the type and style of funeral palls. They don’t forbid the use of a nation’s flag or symbols when covering a casket. Any palls that have symbols should be removed before entering the church and placed back after the casket exits the church.

The Order of Christian Funerals states that palls bearing symbols should have no part in the funeral liturgy.

Symbol of equality

Palls are used by many to demonstrate that death makes everyone equal. A country’s flag or a pall with symbols is not allowed during the funeral service or liturgy due to this reason. 

Demonstration of belief

Only Christian symbols are allowed during the funeral liturgy to avoid issues and misunderstandings about the person who passed away. You must exclude national flags or palls with symbols that have no religious connection during the liturgy itself.

The type of funeral may play a significant part in determining whether a flag is appropriate for use as a pall. You see flags in military funerals but some churches prefer no flags as a pall because a pall is a symbol of Christian beliefs. 

Consult with the priest or official directing your loved one’s funeral for specific guidelines on flags and palls with symbols.

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Who Uses Funeral Palls?

Catholics and Christians in the U.S. and Canada use palls for religious purposes, but there are no restrictions as to who can use a pall for a funeral ceremony.

Originally, palls were used during medieval times to cover dead bodies of those who had no access to caskets or other containers. As time progressed, palls were adopted by the church and tied to religious symbolism, including baptism and Jesus’ death.

Why Do People Use Funeral Palls?

Today, a funeral pall symbolizes a connection with Christianity and more specifically, baptism and the burial of Jesus. It also serves as a symbol of equality in death. Before purchasing a funeral pall for your loved one, be sure his or her wishes and desires would be in line with having one.

Funeral palls hold specific meanings and are rich with historical tradition, ritual, and symbolism. We list several reasons why people choose to incorporate funeral palls into their ceremonies.

A reminder of the baptismal garment

According to the Christian Order of Funeral guidelines, a pall serves as a reminder of the garment the person was baptized in. Baptism symbolizes cleansing and the adoption of Christianity for life. It is for this reason that many people opt for a white pall that resembles purity and the absence of sins.

Because of the tie-in to baptism, a funeral pall becomes a symbolic demonstration of the person’s belief and adherence to Christianity.

Connection with Jesus

A pall also represents a connection with Jesus’ death. For some people, a pall represents the grave clothes Jesus wore when he was buried. In this way, the deceased declares his belief in Jesus.

A symbol of equality

Funeral palls cover luxurious or expensive caskets. Many churches encourage palls for to bring a sense of equality into the funeral. 

Palls alone can range anywhere from $150 to nearly $1,000, depending on the material, design, and craftsmanship. Keep these costs in mind as you plan out the cost of a funeral.

Types of Funeral Palls

Funerary palls typically have the design of a crucifix in the middle of the cloth, decorated with braids. 

You must decide on fabric, length, and decorations: 

  • You can choose between a pall that covers only the casket or a longer one that covers anything below the casket during the funeral ceremony and the vigil.
  • You don’t need to choose a particular material, braiding, cross designs, or color. If you’re having a difficult time deciding, simply go with a priest’s recommendation or a pall that makes you think of your loved one.  
  • The price range of the pall varies depending on whether you have a preference for a particular fabric, design, or maker. Let’s go over several types of palls commonly available at funeral homes and funeral supply stores.

1. Pall with a plain design

A plain design is the simplest type of funeral pall. It’s usually made of white or cream cloth with a small- to a medium-sized crucifix in the middle.

Given its simple style and minimal decoration, this funeral pall is widely available, affordable, and can ship quickly. You can opt for polyester or polycotton.

2. Embroidered funeral pall

Embroidered funeral palls are either handmade or machine sewn. If you want a handmade design, you’ll need to order well in advance of the funeral. Embroidery is delicate work and can take days to complete when using a machine or weeks if hand-embroidered.

Embroidery work can include variations on popular Christian symbols, including a crucifix and a silhouette of Jesus' face or other symbols as well. 

Customized embroidered palls give you the option of choosing from fabrics such as silk, cotton, damask, and linen.

3. Funeral pall with braids

If you prefer a design that adds more decoration to the whole canvas of the pall, consider a pall with braids. 

The braids cross the pall vertically and horizontally, resembling a large crucifix. You could forgo the crucifix symbol on the fabric itself if you choose a braid. 

The price of the pall depends largely on the size, material of the braid, the colors, and method of weaving.

4. Tailored funeral pall

A tailored funeral pall is one of the most customizable options available, but is more expensive and takes more time to craft. When deciding on the elements of a tailored funeral pall, you’ll choose each element from fabric, symbols, and braids to color, design, and length. You’ll also have a chance to include extra items such as emblems and appliques in the corners of the pall. 

If deciding on a customized tailored funeral pall, you’ll need to plan well in advance, as machine-tailored palls can take up to a week and hand-tailored palls take even longer.

5. Lined or unlined funeral pall

The lining on a pall has more to do with the preferred make-up and feel of the funeral pall, not the design.

Lighter funeral pall fabrics such as satin are often lined to produce a heavier pall that stays in place better. If budget is an issue, choosing an unlined pall is more affordable than a lined option. When looking up prices, the lining may not exist within the quote, so it’s best to ask for pricing for both lined and unlined funeral palls.

6. Funeral urn pall

If your relative prefers cremation, you can purchase a small funeral urn pall for use in the funeral service. Urn palls look similar in design and style to regular funeral palls.

They often have the symbol of a cross included on the cloth and can include braiding. Sized to specifically cover an urn instead of a casket, they’re often much more affordable than full-sized funeral palls.

If you wish to have a regular size funeral pall even if your relative will be cremated, you can rent a casket for the service in order to use the pall. You can then keep the pall as a reminder of your loved one.

Rich Symbolism of Funeral Palls

Funeral palls hold a rich tradition of meaningful symbolism for many Christians. If you or your loved one desires to demonstrate Christian beliefs or a sense of equality before God, a funeral pall is a beautiful way to do so. 

If you're looking for more funeral planning advice, read our guides on Catholic funerals and Catholic funeral songs.


Sources

  1. Contributing Editors. “Must a Pall Replace the Flag at a Funeral Mass?” Catholic Answers, Catholic Answers, 23 February 2019. catholic.com/qa/must-a-pall-replace-the-flag-at-a-funeral-mass
  2. McNamara, Father Edward. “Funeral Palls.” Funeral Traditions, Global Catholic Network, 26 July 2016. ewtn.com/catholicism/library/funeral-palls-4820.
  3. Order of Christian Funerals with Cremation Rites. Catholic Book Publishing, Totowa, NJ, 1998.

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