Perhaps you have asked the question “Why be buried in a Catholic Cemetery?” There are many reasons to be buried in holy ground. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Washed in the waters of Baptism, anointed with Holy Chrism and nourished by the Bread of Life, in the Eucharist, we are initiated into the community of the Church. We share in the Divine Life and are united with the Lord and to our brothers and sisters in the Communion of Saints. United to the Community of Faith in life, would we not want to be buried with those with whom we have shared the life of faith?
Throughout our Judeo-Christian history we are reminded of the importance of being buried with our family of faith. In Genesis 23, Sarah is buried with her forebears. The burial of Jacob is recorded in Genesis 50 and the burial of Joseph is recorded in Exodus 13. When we look at the burial of the Lord Jesus we see that he was not buried in the grave dug for a stranger, but rather the tomb of his friend Joseph of Arimathea. That spirit of communion with our forbears is known as the Communion of Saints.
Small wonder then that Christians wanted to be buried with other Christians in the shadow of the church. To be buried next to the place where the Eucharist is celebrated and received was a visible sign of continuing communion with the Church. On the death of the Emperor Theodosius, St. Ambrose prayed, “Give perfect rest to thy servant Theodosius….where he cannot feel the sting of death, where he knows that this death is not the end of nature but of error….” What a wonderful thought for all who have died.
Images of life have always been a part of the “religious feel” of a Catholic Cemetery. From images of the Good Shepherd with a lamb on his shoulders, to images of Lazarus being raised from the dead, to angels knocking at a tomb these images are wide spread in Catholic Cemeteries. All are life affirming and a reassurance of the Resurrection of the dead for all believers.
Prayer too is an important part of being buried in a Catholic Cemetery. Many people visit the graves of their loved ones, decorating them with flowers and votive lights. Those buried in an Archdiocesan Cemetery have Mass celebrated for them every day of the year. Many cemeteries have special observances for All Soul’s Day and/or Memorial Day. Cemeteries that have a large enough mausoleum may also have votive candles that may be lit for a loved one.
Finally, the grounds are wonderfully maintained and individual graves treated with respect. The well-kept grounds remind us of the Heavenly Jerusalem to which we are called. That is why the removal of flowers that have died and other decorations that are weather worn help to maintain the dignity and holiness of the sacred space. As a result, we are then able to pray, “Requiscat in Pace” Rest in Peace.
—By Fr. David Baranowski