There is often confusion about whether flowers are allowed at a Catholic funeral. Confusion stems from the time they were prohibited. Peter Elliot explains in his Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite: "The presence or absence of flowers is an effective sign according to the principle of contrast" (no. 70, p. 26). In other words, the absence of flowers at the Funeral Mass, which is for the dead, contrasts the presence of flowers at Sunday Mass, which is a celebration of new life in Christ.
While flowers are no longer prohibited, most parishes ask that they be used in moderation. Where flowers may be displayed, or acceptable casket sprays, are practices that vary from parish to parish. Ask the presiding priest for direction.
Some flowers and arrangements are preferred for their religious or historical significance. Whether attending a funeral or arranging one for your loved one, seek suggestions from a priest or professional florist regarding funeral flower etiquette. Keep this information in mind:
Funeral Roses. The white rose is symbolic of Mary's purity while the red rose represents martyrdom. Roses are considered flowers related to Christ.
Funeral Chrysanthemums. Chrysanthemums relate to death and grief generally. They are commonly used in Catholic funerals and at graves. It is believed that chrysanthemum coronarium, or the "Crown Daisy," was arranged on Christ's body when he was put in his tomb.
Funeral Carnations. A red carnation symbolizes admiration; a pink carnation stands for remembrance. White ones represent purity, virtue, and innocence. Christian belief holds that carnations bloomed on earth when Mary shed tears for Jesus as she watched Jesus carry the cross.
Funeral Lilies. Lilies are familiar funeral flowers, symbolizing innocence and purity brought back to the soul of the departed.
While flowers are limited at the Funeral Mass, they are used without restriction at the wake. Sympathy flowers may also be sent to the family's home.