The abbreviation frequently found on gravestones has an ancient history tied to Catholic funeral ceremonies.
Found on gravestones throughout the world, R.I.P. is an abbreviation that has a rich history. The letters stand for a Latin phrase, requiescat in pace. The direct translation in English is “rest in peace,” though the Latin words are actually part of a much longer prayer for the deceased.
The first use of the Latin phrase dates to the 8th century and is meant to be a prayer for the deceased person, praying that they may experience eternal rest in Heaven. It corresponds with the Catholic belief in purgatory and the phrase remains a central part of Catholic funeral ceremonies today.
The prayer is most commonly found in the following verse and response:
Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine
℟. Et lux perpetua luceat ei:
℣. Requiescat in pace.
℣. Eternal rest, grant unto him/her, O LORD,
℟. And let perpetual light shine upon him/her.
℣. May he/she rest in peace.
This prayer is also frequently set to music, especially in Latin “Requiem” Masses. Composers such as Bach and Mozart created their own compositions that feature this prayer.