Catholic Cemeteries

Why Choose a Catholic Cemetery?

A Catholic Cemetery is more than a place for the burial of the dead. It represents the continuation, even in death, of the harmony and spiritual alliance which makes all Catholics members of one great family, thereby constituting it an actual family plot.

The early Christians wished to separate themselves definitely from the pagans and consequently make provisions for the burial of their dead in a manner befitting the beliefs of the infant Church.

The testimony of the Acts of the Apostles and of such other writers as Tertullian (160-220 AD), proves not only the existence of a definite burial ritual, but also the observance of the regular anniversaries of the dead. Since pagan law gave a certain amount of protection to the burial places of all peoples, even criminals, it was comparatively easy for the early Christians to develop their burial customs according to the religious belief which the Church, even at that early age, demanded. Thus Catholic Cemeteries were born and continued to be created up to and including the present day.

There are basically only two places that the Catholic Church consecrates as Holy Ground and those are a church and a cemetery.

The consecration of a cemetery is an extremely ancient custom of the Church. It can be traced back as far as Saint Gregory of Tours (d 593 AD). The ceremony was development from the ritual prescribed in the early pontifical (ritual ceremonial books).

In some non-Catholic cemeteries today, a section may be designated as the “Catholic Section” but this is very misleading for obvious reasons. Only a Catholic Bishop can designate and consecrate a cemetery as Holy Ground within the Diocese of which he is the Bishop.

The demands of the Church are based upon teachings which make it clear that burial in a Catholic cemetery was not only a holy privilege, but also a requirement which was dispensed with from time to time. The members of the Church living and dead are a part of the body of the same Church, united by a common head, Jesus Christ, into a confraternity which is without limit of time…

The cemetery is sacred not only because of the consecration but because it holds the relics of many who are already enjoying the Beatific Vision (moment the soul passes in to the glory of Heaven and sees Jesus face to face).

It is our duty and right as an expression of our religious freedom in the United States of America that we be allowed to establish Holy Ground to bury our dead where possible, with all due respect to the provisions that civil law imposes.

Written by Fr. Argentino, director of Cemeteries, Diocese of St. Petersburg. He also chairs the Catholic Cemetery Conference’s Liturgy Committee. Fr. Argentino may be reached at 727.572.4355. 

Published in the October 2013 edition of Catholic Cemetery.

Catholic Funeral Rites

The Vigil (Wake Service), the Funeral Liturgy (Mass), and the Committal (Burial/Entombment) each have distinct purposes in the journey to healing and wholeness. The Vigil, the Funeral Liturgy and the Committal set us on a path to healing, wholeness and peace. We don’t have to face it alone, nor should we, our church will be there for us, for that we are truly thankful.

The Vigil (Wake Service) is truly a time to laugh, cry, remember and pray. A time to rejoice in all that the person was and is. This can truly be a healing time for all those who are hurting.

The Vigil for the Deceased is the first way that the Church captures the sentiments of those who are grieving and sets them in the context of our faith. A prayer service with readings selected from Scripture to fit the circumstances of the deceased, a homily that comforts and gives hope, intercessions that speak to the faith of those gathered around the deceased, and prayers selected from the rich resources found in the Order of Christian Funerals can do a great deal to prepare people to enter into the Christian spirit of the Funeral Liturgy. The Rosary or other prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary can be part of the Vigil.

Eulogies are best given at an appropriate time during the Vigil Service (Wake). While there is a natural desire to say good things about a person who has died, we must always remember that in the context of prayer, it is the working of God’s grace in the life of the deceased for which we want to give thanks and praise. Eulogies in the context of prayer must be more than mere tributes to the goodness of the deceased. There must be a reference to what God has done for the deceased person and for us through him/her. Priests and parish bereavement ministers are available to assist families in selecting Scripture readings and music for the wake service and funeral liturgies.

The Funeral Liturgy (Mass) is our great “Thank You” to God who created us, died for us, and who is calling each of us back to Himself. In this step the focus shifts slightly from emphasis on the deceased to God’s saving works though Jesus Christ. The Mass, particularly at the time of death, is truly a special moment, a holy moment, a God-moment.

Celebrating the funeral liturgy at Mass in the parish church is the normal way in which most Catholics experience the Order of Christian Funerals. The Eucharist looks forward to our participation in the heavenly banquet, where we are united with Jesus, the saints, and all those who share eternal life. Jesus said, “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood shall live forever.” (John 6:54) The Eucharist is truly the central point in a Catholic funeral. Its effectiveness is greatly enhanced when the family participates in appropriate ways: clothing the casket with the pall, selecting the Scripture readings, serving as lectors or extraordinary ministers, singing the responses and the hymns and, most especially, receiving Holy Communion.

The funeral homily is of utmost importance in the funeral liturgy. A homily may only be delivered by a priest or a deacon, as liturgical homilies are part of the sacramental rite of the Eucharist. The homily speaks of the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection and gives the deeper meaning that is found in the experience of death and dying. The homily occurs within the context of a funeral Mass that is offered for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of the soul of the faithful departed.

The last step — the last concrete act we can do for our loved ones in this world — is the Committal, the burial or entombment of the remains of the deceased. The relationships, bonds and “communion” we build with one another in faith are not broken by death. Resting in a holy place with our brothers and sisters is a profound statement of that belief.

The Rite of Committal is the final liturgy in the Order of Christian Funerals. Like the Vigil Service, the Rite of Committal makes use of Scripture, a few words of hope by the presider, intercessions and prayers.

A Catholic cemetery is a sacred place of honor and respect for those who have died. It is a memorial to all who are interred there. It is a sacred place where Catholics come to express their grief and hope in the resurrection for their loved ones who have preceded them in death. It is blessed ground, fitting for someone whose body was a temple of the Holy Spirit on earth and now awaits the resurrection from the dead.

To have a representative of the Church present at this final moment is a great source of consolation to those who will now have to continue their journey in life without their beloved. While a priest may be unable to preside at the Committal Service, a deacon or a trained bereavement minister may represent the Church at this final moment.

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”

– Jeremiah 29: 11