A pall is a white 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 that 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 begins by saying a blessing over the casket with these words: “In the waters of baptism, N. died with Christ and rose with Christ to new life. May he/she now share with him eternal glory.” After the blessing, the pall is placed upon the casket (usually by family members or close friends or funeral home staff) symbolizing the white garments that the individual wore 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. The pall also is 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.
Choosing people to place the pall
The pall can be placed on the casket by family members or close friends who will follow the instructions of the funeral home staff. If no one is chosen, the pall may be placed on the casket by the funeral home staff at the beginning of the service or before the service begins.