Pallbearer: a person who assists in carrying a casket during a traditional funeral or burial. Their role is to keep the casket safe and deliver it from the funeral service to its final resting spot. In the Middle Ages, pallbearers would hold the four corners of the pall while other men lifted the casket.
A pall is a heavy cloth that is draped over a coffin. The term pallbearer is used to signify someone who “bears” the coffin which the pall covers. If a person is carrying a coffin covered with a pall, then they’re “bearing the pall.”
Pallbearers are typically close family members and friends chosen by the deceased in pre-death planning or by the family after. Usually consisting of six to eight pallbearers, the number varies on the size of the casket. Not all pallbearers can lift the casket, therefore if someone is unable to perform the duties, they may walk alongside or behind the casket. They are referred to as “honorary pallbearers”. Whether pallbearer or honorary pallbearer, it is considered a high honor to serve.
Pallbearers play a crucial role in the funeral service, as they’re seen by all who are present at the burial ceremony. They must carry the casket with strength and reverence as members of the procession into the church service and to the gravesite.
Once the family exits the funeral home, the pallbearers will lift the casket onto a cart “church truck” or placed directly into a hearse.
At the funeral service or mass, the pallbearers will carry the casket down the aisle and to the front of the church. Funeral songs or religious hymns are often played during this time. The immediate family will walk in front of or behind the casket in the procession. It’s symbolic for them to walk in with the casket as others bow and offer their prayers and condolences.
Once the service is over, they’ll carry the casket from the church into the hearse. At the gravesite, they’ll help lift the casket out of the hearse and deliver it to the graveside. Pallbearers are chosen, because of their respectful nature and they are to perform their duties with dignity and grace.