CATHOLIC BURIAL TRADITION
Why Choose a Catholic Cemetery?
Burial for a Catholic takes place in a special area set aside for the resting place of the deceased. Aside from the legal restrictions for burial, a Catholic may choose the site of burial. A Catholic Cemetery is a sacred place that is set aside by the local church’s bishop. A Catholic cemetery is the resting place for those who are baptized, who worshipped and lived their Christian faith, and in death complete their baptismal commitment at rest with their fellow companions in faith. However, it is not a requirement to be Catholic to be buried in a Catholic cemetery. Within the norms for Catholic burial a Catholic may choose to be buried in a cemetery other than a Catholic one. The rite of committal includes a ritual for blessing the place of burial if it has not been previously blessed.
Catholic cemeteries are an integral element of a Catholic’s profession of faith that death is nothing other than a transition to the fullness of life. Christian burial is as old as the Church itself. From its earliest days, the Church has taught that the bodies of the faithful are sacred…formed in the image and likeness of God, temples of the Holy Spirit, and destined for glorification and eternal life. This is mirrored in the dignity and beauty of a Catholic cemetery. Because non-Catholics are part of Catholic families, the Church also favors the burial of non-Catholic members of Catholic families in Catholic Cemeteries.
Burying the dead has been considered a sacred duty since Old Testament times. Our Christian belief in the resurrection of the body raises this obligation to a new level. “…now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life.” 1Corinthians 15
In keeping with those words of St. Paul, the Catholic Church sets aside cemeteries as sacred ground, the resting-place of the faithful until they rise to new life on the last day. The Church considers Catholic cemeteries as an important part of its ministry. Catholics believe our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. In his earthly life, Christ honored the human body, curing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the multitudes. He left us with sacraments to continue his work through the ages. In the sacramental life of the Church, our bodies are baptized with water, anointed with oil in confirmation and ordination, nourished with the Body and Blood of the Lord and finally anointed with the oil of the Sacrament of the Sick. In the incarnation, God became flesh. The son of God assumed a mortal body, felt our joys and our sorrows and finally shared in our certain sad sentence of death. At his death, his body was treated with sacred respect by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus who reverently laid him in the tomb. On the third day, Christ rose from that tomb, sealing our faith in the resurrection of the dead.
This faith inspires the work of Catholic cemeteries. They are more than burial grounds. They are places of worship, where Masses are offered for the living as well as the dead. Works of art fill Catholic cemeteries with visible reminders of our faith. They are places where the living come not only to mourn their dead but to find hope and peace.
Catholic cemeteries fulfill not only our obligation to bury the dead but to console the sorrowing and to pray for all God’s children, living and dead.
Catholic Burial Traditions
For centuries, Catholic burial options went unchanged: in-ground burial in a churchyard or diocesan cemetery with rows of upright monuments marking the graves. The only exceptions were a few family mausoleums where the bodies of the prominent and wealthy were interred.
The past 50 years have seen a great variety of changes. Memorial parks now place all grave markers at ground level with religious artworks adorning each cemetery section. Large new mausoleums offer an affordable alternative to in-ground burial. Finally, while the Church still prefers traditional burials, Catholics may choose cremation as an alternative.
What burial options are available?
Traditional in-ground burial
Entombment in a mausoleum crypt
Interment of cremated remains in a grave
Inurnment in above ground niche
Catholics and Cremation
As it has throughout history, the Church “earnestly recommends the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed ….” (Canon 1176 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law)
While the Church favors traditional burial, it now allows cremation. In the past the Church prohibited cremation because the practice had been associated with a denial of the Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the soul. The Church removed this prohibition in 1963 and now forbids cremation only if it is done “for reasons that are contrary to Christian teaching.” Even when cremation is chosen, the funeral liturgy requires the presence of the body — not only to reaffirm the Catholic reverence for the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit but to contribute to the grieving process of family and friends. Even in death, the body is a reminder of the Incarnation and a foreshadowing of our resurrection from the dead: “…in baptism the body was marked with the seal of the Trinity and became the temple of the Holy Spirit,” (OCF 19.)
When, through lack of understanding, a body is cremated before the funeral liturgy, the Church ordinarily would celebrate a memorial Mass without the presence of the cremated remains. However, a dispensation to allow the presence of the cremated remains at a funeral liturgy may be granted by the Diocesan Bishop on a case-by-case basis, provided that the request does not reflect a denial of the church’s teaching. Whether the body is cremated before or after the funeral Mass, the cremated remains of the body must be treated with the respect belonging to a child of God. The cremated remains should be placed in a “worthy vessel” designed for this purpose and interred in a grave or mausoleum. At the cemetery, the cremated remains are laid to rest with a final liturgical prayer, “The Rite of Committal.” In keeping with the Church’s teaching of the sacredness of human life, the cremated human remains should not be scattered, kept at home or divided among family members. To encourage the respectful disposition of cremated remains, Catholic Cemeteries offer a number of options:
An adult grave may be purchased for burial of up to four cremated remains.
Smaller sized plots with pre-set vaults are available for the burial of cremated remains.
Urns may be placed in above ground columbarium niches designed specifically for cremated remains.
Cemetery Rules and Regulations
Catholic Cemeteries are places of prayer and meditation, monuments to our Faith and witness to life everlasting. Catholic burial is a unique ritual, characterized by rites that express profound spiritual truths. A Catholic funeral acknowledges the dignity of human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, and the inestimable value of each individual soul.
Christian burial is an honor, a privilege and an opportunity for Catholics to be part of a meaningful and dignified observance of the passage of a human life. The Rules and Regulations handbook issued by a Diocese will help ensure that Catholic cemeteries will continue to be sacred resting places for your loved ones and remain holy, beautiful and quiet. Facing the reality of death is a profession of our Catholic faith. If we are a people who believe in Eternal Life, then death is simply a doorway through which we pass to complete our journey to the kingdom.
Diocesan staff members offer their expertise on a one-on-one basis in order to provide families with effective help at a time of great need. They also offer assistance in preparing beforehand for the final repose of you and your loved ones through pre-planning.
Advantages of Planning Beforehand
Peace of mind is achieved by anticipating the decision-making process.
Assurance of Catholic Burial when the need arises.
Families are able to make decisions as a whole to ensure wishes are met.
Appointments can be made in your home.
Families are able to secure adjoining plots, niches and crypts.
Burial and funeral costs may be paid in advance to spare loved ones these expenses.
Grief has no timetable, knows no bounds
By Phyllis Montero
Cemetery Administration Manager
Grief is painful and during the grieving process that pain can be nearly unbearable. The length and difficulty of the grieving process varies with each unique situation: the relationship with the person who has died, the circumstances of the death, and how survivors handle life situations.
Always realize that grief has no timetable. It is cyclical. The emotions come and go for weeks, months and years. Understanding the emotions of grief is an important step in the healing process. The most common reactions to the death of a loved one are: shock, denial, anger, guilt, sadness, and finally acceptance.
During the grieving process the reactions can be felt in this order. Most often, however, they are felt at the same time but in varying degrees. Each of these feelings is a normal part of the process of grieving. Shock and denial are nature’s way of softening the immediate blow of death. There is a numbing sense and the survivors go through the motions of life while actually feeling little. Anger, too, is a normal reaction. At times it can be even be directed at the deceased for leaving. People of faith may direct their anger at God for allowing so much pain. Guilt is often expressed in the form of a question: “Could I have done more?” At the death of a loved one, sadness is not only normal but inevitable. It is also normal to feel alone and afraid.
Finally comes the sense of acceptance. Time alone does not heal grief but acknowledging the loss and experiencing the pain may free the survivor from the yearning. Accepting life without the loved one may lead the way to a new perspective about the future. It is very important to take care of yourself during the grieving process and know that the emotions you feel are normal.
You may choose to find a bereavement support group to help you through the process. These groups offer a safe environment where you will learn to recognize and understand the normal signs of grief. You will be able to share your story with others who have experienced a loss and you will learn to develop and enhance healthy ways of coping. Many parishes have bereavement ministries, either directly or through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Please consult your parish directory.
Why Do Catholics Believe in Purgatory? http://semperaltius.com/purgatory_in_the_bible.htm
Why Do Catholics Communicate with the Dead?
Why Do Catholics Pray for the Dead? http://semperaltius.com/pray%20for%20the%20dead.htm
Why Do Catholics Have Gregorian Masses Said for the Dead?
Local Catholic Cemetery in Sacramento:
Calvary Catholic Cemetery & Mausoleum
7101 Verner Ave
Sacramento, CA 95841
Fax (916) 726-4821
Office Weekday Hours: 8:30 A.M. To 4 P.M.
Office Weekend Hours:
Sat: 9 A.M. To 12 Noon
Grounds Open Daily: 8 A.M. To 5 P.M.
Directions: I-80 To Greenback Exit, To Verner Ave. (Near Garfield).
Calvary Cemetery offers Masses in its chapel on a regular basis and provides a Mass each weekend for family and friends to attend in memory of their loved ones.
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