The catafalque is either an empty casket or a wooden form made to look like a casket that is covered by the black pall and surrounded by six unbleached (orange) candles (when they are available); it is a symbolic representation of the deceased. When it is present, the priest sings the absolution for the deceased as if the body was present. The body was the Temple of the Holy Spirit and must be shown the greatest respect, even symbolically.
More from Fr. Robert Pasley at the ChantCafe.com