Our Catholic Traditions

We know earthly death is not the end, but rather the door through which we must pass to gain eternal life. Because of our belief and hope in the Resurrection, we can face death not with fear, but with preparation. Although certainly not comprehensive, the following considerations are provided as starting points for understanding and preparing for this transition, whether it is imminent or not.
Cemetery Traditions

Catholic cemeteries trace their roots back to the Jewish practice of providing separate burial grounds for community members. The early Christians continued this practice, both because it was a familiar tradition, and also because it was a statement of faith about the dignity of the human body in death and the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.

At death we focus on Baptism and the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, nourished at the Eucharistic table. Rooted in that recognition, we remember our beloved and give thanks for the life we shared. When we visit the burial sites of our loved ones, we experience the same Eucharistic dynamic. Oftentimes we recognize the need for reconciliation with our beloved dead and prayer at the cemetery is an effective approach toward healing.

Catholic cemeteries manifest the “now/not yet” status of the Kingdom of God. We are now a people of history, a people redeemed but still in pain and sorrow. This is why we pray as Jesus did, “Thy Kingdom come…”

We are a people who visit our cemeteries to be reminded of our history, our Catholic beliefs and practices. We, as a community, profess our beliefs and value system … even in the silence of the grave.

Painful as it might be, family and friends are encouraged to return to the burial places to find there, in the presence of those mortal remains, people joined with the communion of saints. The church invites you to unite in prayer for their eternal rest. In the stillness of the cemetery, may you connect with that great prayer of the early Church, “Marana tha!” “Lord Jesus, come!”

Order of Christian Funerals

The long-standing funeral and cemetery tradition of the Catholic Church flows logically out of fundamental tenets of the Catholic faith such as:

  1. The dignity of each human person
  2. The importance of baptism into the faith
  3. The reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ
  4. The promise of Jesus that one day we will also share eternal life
  5. The value and need to pray for the dead
  6. The celebration of the Eucharist as the great act of memory and thanksgiving for redemption.

Death is rightly celebrated at the parish church, the place of Baptism and Eucharist, the place where the bereaved must find comfort in the believing community and strength in the Eucharist that is celebrated for them on behalf of their deceased relative or friend.

In the context of these faith realities, death and burial are experienced and must be celebrated. The church provides the Order of Christian Funerals with three distinct elements as the proper and fitting way for the death of a Catholic to be observed.

  1. A Vigil for the deceased can be observed as a wake for the deceased in the funeral home, with the body present.
  2. Also with the body present, the Catholic Church offers the Mass of Christian Burial which is typically celebrated for the deceased in the company of family, friends, and the parish community at the parish church.
  3. Following the celebration of the funeral liturgy, it is proper that the deceased be interred among members of the same faith tradition to prefigure the communion of saints. The church provides a Committal Rite and Farewell to fittingly bring our deceased to their places of rest while awaiting their reunion with family and the Risen Lord.
Cremation Catholic Tradition

In the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law the church articulated a new position on cremation for Catholics: “The church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.” Cremation may be chosen for good reason. This might include hygienic, economic or reasons of a public or private nature. Some examples might include the transfer of the remains to a distant place, the avoidance of considerable expense, an ethnic tradition/custom, or a severe fear of earth burial. The selection of cremation should be the specific choice of the individual before death; and the wishes and concerns of family members must be considered.

While cremation is an acceptable alternative, if at all possible, the various elements of the church’s Order of Christian Funerals, i.e. the Vigil or Wake Service, the Funeral Mass with the body present, the Committal Service at the Catholic cemetery, should be conducted in the usual way. Although all three elements or stations of the Order of Christian Funerals have importance, priority is given to the celebration of the Funeral Mass with the body present. If this cannot be done, there is provision to celebrate the Funeral Mass with the cremated remains [ashes] present.

Nowhere is the need for careful advance planning of funeral and burial rites more important than when an individual has reviewed church tradition and teaching and concluded that cremation is appropriate. Pre-planning is critical for a number of reasons, including:

  1. The opportunity to raise the question with other family members and discuss their comfort with this selection.
  2. The need to research the impact of the cremation option on the celebration of the church’s Order of Christian Funerals.
  3. The need to fully understand what is being selected and what obligations remain to be satisfied.

We are accustomed to making our own decisions about daily life and future plans. We exert control over the final distribution of our assets and care for our survivors through a will and provision of life insurance policies. The care and attention given to these decisions should also be extended to the decision about cremation.

If giving serious consideration to cremation, what are the appropriate steps to take? The following recommendations are appropriate:

  1. Understand the teachings and traditions of our faith community.
  2. Discuss the matter with those closest to you and make sure they can accept cremation should you pre-decease them.
  3. Consult with experienced professionals about arrangements that can be made in advance. Such selections would include choice of cemetery, decision about in-ground or above-ground inurnment of the cremated remains, selection of an appropriate urn, and provision for payment in advance of all items that can be secured in this fashion.
  4. Understand the variety of rites contained in the Order of Christian Funerals that are provided for the benefit of you and your survivors, rites that traditionally include the Vigil, Celebration of the Funeral Mass with the body present, and Committal Service at the cemetery.
  5. Take into account the time necessary to perform the cremation and develop a workable sequence of events that is faithful to both personal requirements and the church’s rituals. This will be especially important when the decision for cremation is based on a desire to be buried at a considerable distance from the place of death

People do different things with cremated remains. Tragically, some scatter the remains; some keep them at home. Some leave the remains at the crematorium or funeral home. Some choose burial or inurnment in a cemetery. Because cremated remains can be divided, some choose a combination of these alternatives.

The Catholic Church rejects scattering, division, and use of cremated remains to fashion jewelry or pottery and earnestly commends burial or inurnment of cremated remains as a mark of respect for the human body which was a temple of the Holy Spirit, was nourished at the Eucharistic Table, and one day will share in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church also values memorialization.

Memorials provide a visible history of our faith community in a particular place and time. They give survivors a focal point for the expression of grief and a place of comfort as they go through the grieving process. Finally, the Catholic cemetery provides a place of prayer, of reconciliation, and of hope for future reunion with Jesus Christ and loved ones who are now members of the communion of saints.

Plan Funerals Ahead

Pre-planning your burial arrangements can bring peace of mind to you and your family. It ensures that your wishes are known and that your survivors will be spared making last-minute decisions under stress.

What is pre-planning?
Pre-planning is making your cemetery and funeral arrangements prior to your death. This allows your wishes to be known, thus eliminating an incredible burden on your loved ones during the very stressful and painful hours after your death. Pre-planning is a concrete sign of your love for surviving family members.

What are the benefits of pre-planning?
The most obvious benefit is that you will relieve your loved ones of the burden of making your cemetery and funeral arrangements at a time of tremendous grief. Your advance planning will give your family the guidance they need to feel comfortable that they are carrying out the decisions you made.

Pre-planning may prevent disagreement among survivors at an emotionally charged time and can assure that emotional over-spending does not occur. By preplanning and prefunding cemetery and funeral arrangements, you may be creating exempt assets should you ever have to go on public assistance.

The costs of cemetery property have been escalating. By purchasing in advance, you are locking in a today’s pricing.

At what age should I consider preplanning cemetery and funeral arrangements? 
Adults of any age who make their own decisions should have a plan. Like your will, it can be revised throughout your life as needs change. In general, the earlier you pre-plan the more options you have. Your cemetery and funeral options will probably never cost less than they do today. Statistics show that 43% of all deaths are unexpected; we are not guaranteed any tomorrows.

In our culture, few families are comfortable discussing death and loss. This is just one of those things that does not get easier as time goes by. Now is the best time for you to get your plan in order.

Why should I choose to be buried in a Catholic cemetery?
First and foremost, Catholic cemeteries are a vital part of our Church’s heritage of caring for and burying the bodies of the dead in blessed ground — one of the corporal works of mercy.

Since our cemeteries are an extension of the ministry provided in your parish community, our Catholic cemeteries are gathering places of remembrance, consolation and communal support. The Eucharist is celebrated in the cemeteries at times during the year. Religious symbols, which are expressive of our heritage of faith, are seen throughout our cemeteries. A caring staff dedicated to the mission of serving God’s people tends the grounds and offices.

Choosing a Catholic cemetery as a final resting place is a statement of your belief that, even in death, the people of God await the resurrection of the body and everlasting life. Your Catholic cemetery gives you a place where your loved ones can come to remember you and all generations past and future.

What are my cemetery options?
The cemetery offers traditional ground burial and offers in ground and above ground cremation burials.