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.