Throughout the Church’s history, Christian burial has been an integral part of Catholic life. Catholic dogmas and doctrines relating to death and resurrection have been reflected in the liturgy, devotions and customs surrounding the death and burial of the faithful. Catholic belief in death as the entrance into eternity, hope in the resurrection, recognition of the value of prayer for the deceased, reverence for the body which remains, a sense of the mystery and sacredness which surround death — all of these should be reflected in the ministry and rites that are part of the Church’s pastoral response to death, the care of the body of the deceased and the consolation of the living.
Christian belief in the sacredness of human life, here and in the world to come, must be reflected in the Christian response to death. The private and liturgical prayers, the meditation and reflection, and the ceremonies and rites connected with the funeral and committal express our participation in the great Paschal Mystery and its promise of eternal union with almighty God. The events which surround death also call for a response from the Christian community.
The General Introduction of the Order of Christian Funerals teaches that “when a member of Christ’s Body dies, the faithful are called to a ministry of consolation to those who have suffered the loss of one whom they love. Christian consolation is rooted in that hope that comes from faith in the saving death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christian hope faces the reality of death and the anguish of grief but trusts confidently that the power of sin and death has been vanquished by the Risen Lord. The Church calls each member of Christ’s Body — priest, deacon, layperson — to participate in the ministry of consolation to care for the dying, to pray for the dead, to comfort those who mourn.” (OCF, 8)
When possible, those who were part of the Catholic community are buried in a Catholic cemetery. Not only is the Catholic cemetery a sacred place, a place of prayer, and a place reflecting our beliefs and traditions, it also expresses the communion of all the faithful, living and dead. It is a recognition of the belief shared by the faithful departed and the living, who commit the bodies of their deceased to this holy place.
When someone dies, a special journey begins. For the one who dies, the journey is the completion of their earthly pilgrimage and their movement to God who judges all with truth and love and has the power to grant life in its fullness. For those who remain, another kind of journey begins. It is a journey of separation and loss, a time of confrontation with death that challenges our confidence, even our faith. For the bereaved family and friends, this may be a long road. Even years later the challenge may remain.
A critical stage of this journey for the human community is the period that begins at the moment of death and ends with the burial or entombment of the deceased. In the Catholic tradition, no one makes this journey alone.