"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first."
1 Thessalonians 4:1
What a glorious scene the resurrection of the dead will be! When that last trumpet sounds and the Lord descends from heaven our bodies, in an incorruptible form, will be reunited with our souls. That our bodies will rise from the dead is a clearly held tenet of our faith, taught by the Magisterium, supported in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. We speak of it every time we pray the Creed.
As followers of Christ we recognize that we were created in the image of God, that we became a temple of the Holy Spirit through Baptism, and believe in the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns.
Throughout our lives we have nourished our body with God’s graces through the Sacraments. It has been anointed with the oil of salvation and fed with the Bread of Life. The body becomes the hands and feet of Christ, clothing the poor and embracing the sorrowing.
How sensible it is that at death the Church lifts up a clear standard on how to respect the body of the deceased. The Church has always taught that we honor our dead through the Rites of Christian Burial. This includes burial of the remains as soon as possible following the funeral Mass.
However, today we see, even among Catholics, human remains being treated in ways that are nothing short of pagan. Cremated remains are being blown up with fireworks, compressed into jewelry, placed into shotgun shells and are being divided, scattered, co-mingled and manipulated in ways that seriously fall short of the dignity fitting for the remains of any human person, let alone those baptized in Christ.
The future will surely bring on other practices that will likely become popular, but also fail the test for a dignified Christian burial. Through a process called alkaline hydrolysis the body is placed in a sealed container and treated with chemicals that liquefy all tissue until only the bones remain. The liquefied body is pumped into the sewer and the bones are crushed into small granules. In Norway a scientist is proposing freezing human remains with liquid nitrogen and then smashing the frozen body into small particles which are then made into compost.
In the eyes of some, the human body is simply something to be disposed of at death. It is simply an object. That is not what the Church has ever taught. We bury our dead and we set aside beautiful places to do so. We bless the ground which contains the remains of our loved ones and it is from this very sacred place that they will rise up to meet Christ! A cemetery is a public place that can be visited by everyone desiring to pay their respects. It is the place where your grandchildren can come to remember you when they are old. Without burial there is no such assurance where your remains will end up or how they will be treated in the future.
The beautiful practice of burying the dead will not destroy the earth as some want to claim. We are not running out of space to give proper burials to our loved ones. Driving through Montana should dispel that false notion pretty quickly.
The popularity of cremation continues to increase and with it there are many misunderstandings. For so many years cremation was forbidden in the Church because cremation had, in various times throughout history, been used by some people to refute the possibility of the Resurrection of the dead.
Cremation has been permitted since 1963, however, the Church has always recommended the burial of the full corporeal remains in imitation of the burial of Jesus. Canon Law states, “The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (Cannon 1176.3).
If cremation is to take place, the Church prefers that the full body be present for the funeral liturgy and cremation occur after the funeral. In this case, burial or placing the remains in a columbarium or mausoleum, takes place a few days later. An exception can be made if a relative is coming home from Australia in a month. In that case, the burial rites are set for a specific date.
With cremation there has been an assumption by many that burial is somehow optional. It is not. Cremated remains are to be treated just as we would treat the full body. All of the cremated remains of the faithful departed must be placed in the same container and buried in a cemetery or entombed in a columbarium or mausoleum. Splitting up the remains is never to be done. If there is a desire to retain something from the body, obtaining a lock of hair from the deceased is a simple matter. The funeral director can provide assistance.
In the rare event that a family refuses to bury the dead or if other non-Catholic practices are being planned that violate the dignity required for the deceased, the Mass of Christian Burial cannot be celebrated. Catholics are not obliged to be buried in a Catholic cemetery, but many parishes are blessed with a cemetery on or near the parish grounds.
Each week we profess our belief in the resurrection of the body as we pray the Creed: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.” Believing in these truths, let us bury our beloved dead with the dignity called for by the Church and entrust their souls to the mercy of God…until the last trumpet sounds!
For more information: www.catholic-cemeteries.org