Memento Mori: Not For Vestments Alone

Most of our readers are more than familiar with the fact that many historical requiem Mass vestments included images of the dead on them as a form of memento mori. We also recently shared some funerary banners that included the same. In point of fact, the use of memento mori not only appeared on vestments and banners they would also occasionally turn up in some of the other liturgical articles that are used within the context of Masses for the Dead.  With All Souls Day around the corner, and with the great interest that is frequently found around this topic, I thought I would share a few of these other odds and ends.

Let's begin with this missal covering and missal cushion -- the first to encase the cover of the missal, the second the lay it upon:

(It is interesting to note the juxtaposition here of the highly refined border decorations with a much more primitive skull and crossbones. To my mind, some of the best and most impactful designs are those in which the skull and crossbones are indeed as such.)

Frequently, specially designed candlesticks (not to mention the altar cross) would be used on the altar when dressed for the requiem; there would also be the candlesticks that were to be set around the coffin or catafalque. The following examples encompass both types, with some being metal castings and others painted wood. Their designated purpose is made evident by the symbols found upon them.

In each of these instances, readers will take note of the black/silver or black/gold theme of these designs which ties back to a point made in this article, Of Requiems, Wood, Iron and Unbleached Beeswax: Internal Consistencies of the Signs. These designs are meant to tie in to the sombre nature of the requiem Mass.

Of course, the catafalque is another liturgical object associated with these times and this particular catafalque likewise included such designs:

The pall frequently featured these symbols as well:

As did these coverings for the catafalque:

As for the liturgical books, frequently they could be found to include these themes:

Lastly, we have three items which are something of a curiosity. They are processional insignia that would have been presumably carried during the course of the funeral procession to the grave:

The thing to take from all of this is that the use of such symbols runs deep in our tradition. 

While contemporary man has a tendency to run away from these sorts of things, they were by no means intended to be macabre. Rather, their purpose was to remind one of the unavoidable reality of our own death and the four last things. As I have argued before, if contemporary man wishes to avoid these realities, then he may well be the one who needs to see these symbols the most.

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