EWTN Catholic Q&A
Three coffins
Question from MaryAlice Sears on 04-13-2005:

I loved the coffin that the Pope was laid in for the Mass. It was so simple and humble...

But why a zinc, then another wooden one, there are many types of identification of that wood...elm? Why was the first coffin put in those two? Seems like unnecessary, like our custom to put a cement liner around our fancy coffins we choose. When do we return to the earth ("remember man that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shall return") when we are within 18mm gage steel and cement?

Thank you, Christ's peace.

Answer by Matthew Bunson on 04-14-2005:

The coffins serve a purpose in each respect. The cypress coffin is deliberately simple to remind that the pontiff, though a great man, has died like all men and was humble in his life. The zinc coffin (lead has also been used traditionally) is to seal the cypress coffin and so preserve the remains. Finally, the third coffin (I believe it was elm for John Paul II, but I read reports of oak and fir) is made of a precious wood befitting the remains of the Supreme Pontiff.