Why should we bury our dead? Why choose a Catholic Cemetery? Are Catholic cemeteries really necessary? Why do we visit the cemetery they’re not really there. Why should we pray for the dead? Why not just have them cremated and scattered at their favorite place? When we are faced with the death of someone we love so many things seem to happen all at once and so many decisions need to be made. As we suffer from the shock of a death, we find ourselves absorbed by the distraction of needing to plan a funeral. And as we navigate our way through the confusion surrounding the aftermath of a death, are we confronted with the question of the necessity of a cemetery?
We must realize the importance of a place where we can go to remember, a place where our faith is alive and our hope in the future is evident. A Catholic cemetery is more than just a place where we inter our beloved dead it is a place where our relationship with the dead is renewed. We look to the very foundation of our faith and we find in it the acknowledgment of our relationship with the dead.
When Mary Magdalene went searching for our Lord at the tomb, she was distressed when she thought His body was stolen. She then stated to the man who she thought was a gardener, “they have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him.” By that statement she acknowledged that our Saviors’ death did not dissolve her relationship with Him.
As Catholics we bury our dead in a Catholic cemetery, because we acknowledge that their death does not obliterate our relationship with them. We bury our dead because we believe that the body must be treated with reverence. As Joseph of Arimathea and the women who were with Jesus ministered to His body with care and reverence before being placed in a tomb, we also treat our dead with reverence. It is our Catholic faith that directs us to bury the body in a sacred place. The body is not a thing to be tossed aside; it is not a shell nor a husk but the body of the person we love. “The Church's belief in the sacredness of the human body and the resurrection of the dead has traditionally found expression in the care taken to prepare the bodies of the deceased for burial."(OCF 411) As we would not leave a body at someone’s favorite place why is it acceptable that we scatter their cremated remains?
When we are confronted with the death of someone we love, will we be influenced by those seeking to diminish the teachings of the Catholic Church? Will we be influenced by those who see a funeral mass as an inconvenience? Will we allow ourselves to be convinced that to obliterate the human person by scattering them to the wind is as reverent as burying them in a place set aside as sacred? We must not be tempted by this new secular theology and allow our dead to be treated as empty shells and simply discarded. We must remember that our relationship with the dead is not dissolved by death. As a community of faith we must turn to the teachings of our Catholic Church and avoid the temptation of treating our dead with little or no regard for the sacredness of the human body.
Our Catholic faith teaches us that “[t]his is the body once washed in baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed with the bread of life. This is the body whose hands clothed the poor and embraced the sorrowing. Indeed, the human body is so inextricably associated with the human person that it is hard to think of a human person apart from his or her body. Thus, the Church's reverence and care for the body grows out of a reverence and concern for the person whom the Church now commends to the care of God." (OCF 412).
Interment in a proper place, a sacred place, challenges the modernists push to undermine our faith and our ancient traditions. The Catholic Church once forbade cremation because it was being used to challenge its’ teachings on the resurrection with the objective of destroying the Catholic faith. While cremation is no longer banned if it is not anti-Catholic in purpose, one must question if scattering is now being promoted to undermine the teachings of our Catholic faith. As people of faith we must always question the motives of those seeking to undo our most sacred teachings.
When looking through our oldest records at Calvary Cemetery, Cleveland, it is amazing to discover the diversity of the people buried at this sacred place. The records at Calvary tell a story and acknowledge a life once lived. The records preserved in perpetuity give the assurance that the final chapter of a person’s life is recorded, no matter how obscure a life lived may have been. Without a burial in a sacred place the record of someone’s life would not exist and the final chapter of the book would remain unwritten. As Catholics we bury our dead because of our belief in the promise of the resurrection and we do so in a Catholic cemetery because we recognize that their death did not terminate our relationship with them, it was merely transformed.
Director, Catholic Cemeteries Association