Requiescat in Pace (RIP): Meaning & Origin Explained

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There are a lot of sayings that bring peace and comfort after the loss of a loved one. A quick stroll through any graveyard shows you just how many of these phrases exist. From popular headstone sayings to knowing what to say when someone dies, understanding the history and meaning behind these phrases is essential when it comes to offering sympathy and condolences. 

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One common phrase that you might encounter after a loss is the Requiescat in Pace (RIP). This is a Latin phrase you’re likely already family with—rest in peace. Where does this phrase come from, and when should you say it? In today’s world, it’s not always easy to find the “right” words to sum up your feelings after a death. Requiescat in Pace is one of the oldest ways to offer sympathy and comfort.

What’s the Meaning of Requiescat in Pace (RIP)?

Requiescat in Pace, or rest in peace, actually comes from a Catholic funeral prayer. To understand the meaning behind RIP, consider each word carefully. The direct translation is “rest in peace” or “sleep in eternal peace,” depending on the context. 

When used in relation to someone who died, it’s a prayer for the deceased soul to rest in eternal paradise. In the Catholic church, this was a way to pray for the soul to find a place in Heaven. The word “rest” or “sleep” indicates that the soul is finally at rest with God. There is no more suffering. To die, according to this phrase, is to find eternal peace in the afterlife. 

As a common prayer, Requiescat in Pace became a normal way to comfort family after a death. Knowing that the loved one was gone is always hard. The reminder that their soul “rests” in Heaven helps with the family’s grief and pain. Over time, the English translation of Requiescat in Pace became more common. Today, the Latin phrase is rarely used outside of the Catholic church. 

Where Does Requiescat in Pace Come From? 

As mentioned above, Requiescat in Pace dates back to a traditional Catholic prayer for the dead. The first traces of the prayer date back to the 8th century. It was a part of Catholic funeral tradition to share a prayer for the dead. 

The line “Requiescat in Pace” reminds the family that the deceased person rests eternally in Heaven. The original Latin prayer translates to:

Eternal rest grant unto him,
And let perpetual light shine upon him;
Rest in peace.
Amen.

Traditionally, this prayer would be set to music. Bach and Mozart both created Requiem music for this prayer. Requiescat in Pace was commonly used on gravestones as well as in prayer. 

Translation into English

The Catholic church commonly gave sermons in Latin throughout the Middle Ages. However, as Christianity influenced secular Western culture, Requiescat in Pace transcended religious lines. It became a more secular term in the 1600s, being adopted by other branches of Christianity. 

RIP was first used as an abbreviation in 1613. In 1681, it became the English version Rest in Peace. While still occasionally used in prayer, it’s more likely to see RIP or rest in peace as a way to pay respects to a loving memory

RIP in pop culture 

It’s also important to note that the phrase “RIP” has taken on a greater pop culture importance in the last few decades. With the introduction of social media and cyberspace, Requiescat in Pace (RIP) has traveled a long way from the 8th-century Catholic church. 

It’s not uncommon to see RIP used in relation to non-living things as well. For example, when TV shows are canceled, fans flock to social media with #RIP posts. This development shows how it’s possible to evoke funeral terms outside of death and mourning. It’s also just one of the many ways our words and definitions change over time.

Where You’ll Find People Saying Requiescat in Pace (RIP)

There are a lot of places you’ll see Requiescat in Pace if you pay attention. Since this phrase has been around since the 8th century, it’s no surprise that it’s easy to find today. 

1. Gravestones

The most common place to see Requiescat in Pace (RIP) is in graveyards. The Latin phrase is likely to only be used in older graveyards or in Catholic graveyards. Otherwise, you’re more likely to find the English translation or the abbreviation. 

Requiescat in Pace is usually a short epitaph. It’s paired with the individual’s name, date of birth and death, and any other information included on the headstone. When used on a headstone, it’s typically intended to be a prayer for the soul’s rest in Heaven. 

2. Obituaries

The English translation of Requiescat in Pace is common in obituaries and eulogies. It’s a powerful way to bring comfort to the family and honor the deceased. Since this phrase has been used for thousands of years, it’s an easy tradition to rely on in times of crisis. 

In obituaries, it’s common to change the wording to personalize it to the deceased. For example, it might read, “Jane rests in peace.” This is a highly versatile way to show that someone’s soul is at rest. 

3. Online tributes

In recent years, online tributes have become mainstream. While it’s not uncommon to also publish a formal obituary in a newspaper or magazine, online tributes are a way for family and friends to pay respect digitally. These are found on social media websites, online tribute websites, and so on. 

Finding the right words to post online after losing a loved one is hard. Many people evoke the English translation of Requiescat in Pace. This is a common, always acceptable way to pay respects, even online. 

4. Sympathy cards

When writing a sympathy card to someone who experienced a loss, RIP is a common way to offer condolences. Many cards include their own rest in peace phrase, but it’s also common to write this yourself in a card to a loved one. 

5. Social media

Outside of online memorials, it’s also normal to spot RIP on social media. While it’s unlikely that you’ll see the Latin phrase Requiescat in Pace, you will see RIP or rest in peace. #RIP is used in a number of common situations:

  • The death of a celebrity or public figure
  • The cancellation or end of a movie series, TV series, fictional character, etc.
  • A joke

While it might seem strange that RIP is now a meme of sorts, it’s all in good fun. For example, a college student might post “RIP” after they pull an all-nighter writing an essay. In modern times, this is a casual phrase that isn’t always series. Like many things in life, it comes down to the context. 

6. Memorial art or urns

Both memorial art and urns commonly include some phrasing similar to rest in peace. While the Latin phrase is no longer the norm, it’s still common in Catholic traditions. 

Memorial art refers to anything from memorial jewelry to alternative burial options. Despite thousands of years passing, this phrase is still incredibly common. 

7. Halloween

Last but not least, RIP is associated with the American holiday Halloween. This night of the year is all about ghosts, scary stories, and candy. However, with ties to ancient traditions and the Catholic holiday All Saint’s Day, it’s no surprise this funeral prayer earned a place within this tradition.

Find Comfort in Eternal Peace

Since the dawn of time, humans have struggled with what to say to help someone through a loss. The Catholic Church developed the Latin phrase Requiescat in Pace to address this very concern, and it was used in a common funeral prayer for thousands of years. Despite Latin falling largely out of practice, it’s still common to see the English translation of this phrase in all aspects of culture. 

Today, it’s common to say rest in peace as a way to honor someone’s memory. The meaning still stands strong all these years later, and it still brings just as much peace as it does then. Having simple phrases to use in times of grief and crisis ease the burden of mourning for the family. There are few things as peaceful as eternal rest, so what better thing to wish upon a departed soul?


Sources

  1. Kosloski, Philip. “Did You Know RIP Is a Latin Prayer?” Aleteia. 2 November 2018. Aleteia.org
  2. “Rest in Peace.” Dictionary. Dictionary.com

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