A pallbearer is one of several participants who helps carry the casket at a funeral. A pall, which recalls the white garments given in baptism, as well as the Resurrection of Christ at Easter, is the heavy (usually white-coloured) cloth that is draped over a coffin. The term "pallbearer" is used to signify someone who bears the coffin which the pall covers.
Some traditions distinguish between the roles of pallbearer and casket bearer. The former is a ceremonial position, carrying a tip of the pall or a cord attached to it. The latter do the actual heavy lifting and carrying. There may otherwise be only pallbearers in the literal sense while the casket is on an animal or vehicle.
In western cultures, the pallbearers are usually male family members, close friends, or colleagues of the deceased. A notable exception was the funeral of Lee Harvey Oswald, in which reporters outnumbered the mourners and were pressed into service to carry the coffin. In some Asian cultures, pallbearers are not to be members of the family but are outsiders, given a tip to perform the services of pallbearer.
A pallbearer in the USA will carry a casket by the handles, and at around waist height. In the United Kingdom, Canada, and Ireland, the casket is carried on the shoulders, and the handles are for the most part decorative. All lifting should be done from underneath the casket.
- "Making Funeral Preparations: A Guide for Preparing Death and the Funeral Liturgy" (PDF). Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. p. 2. Retrieved 28 August 2014.
The coffin may be covered with a pall, recalling the white garment given in Baptism, the robe of Christ's righteousness that clothes us. The pall also reminds us that in death and before God all people are equal, regardless of whether the coffin is simple or elaborate. The white color of the pall is a reminder of Easter and Christ's victory over death.
- Cochran, Mike (21 November 2013). "How I became Lee Harvey Oswald's pallbearer". Denver Post. Associated Press. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
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