The Catholic Church has a long and rich tradition of burial rites dating back to its earliest days, when the burial of deceased Christians took place in the catacombs of Rome. It was in those same catacombs that the early Christians gathered for the breaking of the Eucharist. Even in its infancy, the Church marked the burial of the faithful with special rituals and held that burial ground to be sacred traditions that the Church has preserved until the present time.
It is still the mark of a devout and faithful Catholic to provide that his or her remains are buried in conformity with the faith and the norms of the Church, in a cemetery where the whole church offers prayers for eternal rest and peace.
Catholic cemeteries exist to perform the Corporal Work of Mercy of burying the dead and to care for their sacred resting places, in a manner that reflects the dignity of the human person and our belief that our mortal bodies will be raised up by Christ on the last day.
The Church buries the bodies of the faithful with great respect and solemn rites because we believe that, in life, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and is therefore a sacred vessel. We also believe that the bodies of those who believed in Christ will be raised and restored to glory when He returns on the last day. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
“The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is immediately created by God — it is not “produced” by the parents — and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.” CCC 366.
Canon Law designates two places in this world as “sacred”: places where the faithful worship (our churches), and places where the faithful are buried (our cemeteries). (Canon 1205) As such, our Catholic cemeteries have a very special character — they are sacred places, where the remains of those who believed in Christ in this life are buried and where they will rest until Christ’s return on the last day.
In our Catholic cemeteries, we, the living members of the Church, gather to pray for those who have gone before us and to reflect on the great promise of “the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” We have great confidence that one day we will be reunited with our deceased loved ones. All those baptized in the faith share in this great promise. Catholic cemeteries are visible signs of Christ’s promises to His Church and of our unwavering hope in the fulfillment of those promises.
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