This Tuesday we begin the month of November. Though it may seem morbid to some, the darker and colder days ahead of us become an occasion on which our minds naturally turn to contemplate the great mystery that lies before us all—death. We reflect upon our own deaths, upon the realities of heaven and hell, upon those who have gone before us and for whom we now pray.
On Wednesday, November 2nd we celebrate the Feast of All Souls. At Masses that day we will pray for the souls in Purgatory, especially for any of our deceased loved ones and friends. At the entrance of all our parishes, there are envelopes available which you may use to write the names of those who have died. The envelope can be returned to parish offices or simply placed in the collection basket at Mass. The names of our loved ones will rest on our parish altars throughout the month of November so that we may be mindful to pray for them, to fast for them and, in particular, to offer Masses and our participation at Masses for the repose of their souls. We sometimes forget that among the great acts of mercy to which Pope Francis calls us particularly during this year of mercy, is praying for the dead.
As we reflect upon the mystery of death, our own and that of those who have gone before us, it is also opportune to reflect on the realities surrounding it, like funerals and cremation. Below follows a brief article on the topic that I offer to assist families as they seek to properly plan for the end of life in harmony with the teachings of the Church. I hope you find it helpful.
When it comes to death and the issues surrounding burial and cremation, there are a multitude of questions which may be on the minds of Catholics. Many are grateful for having some direction and guidance, particularly when it comes to such sensitive issues. What follows is a very brief summary of the teachings and requirements of the Church at the time of death.
First of all, the Church strongly prefers that the body be present for the funeral rites. The human body is sacred. During life, the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is washed in Baptism, anointed with sacred oil in Confirmation and fed the Body and Blood of Christ. The body is an instrument of charity and compassion toward other people. In death, the body is therefore to be shown dignity and reverence, even as Christ’s body was. Even if cremation is to take place at a later time, the Church encourages the body to be present for the Vigil and Funeral Mass.
There are times however, when this is not possible. In such a situation the cremated remains may be present for the funeral rites. It is important to note that the remains are to be treated with the same respect we give to the human body. Treating the cremated remains exactly as we would the body means that we place them in a worthy vessel, transport them with dignity and entomb them in a mausoleum or bury them in a grave. They are not to be scattered in the park, distributed among friends, or poured into a favorite lake. Our focus is on eternal life; caring for the cremated remains in the same manner as we would the body of a loved one points to Jesus Christ and expresses our hope that they may one day experience a bodily resurrection, even as he did.
There are those who will read this information and have some feelings of guilt for choices made in the past. Many of us have regrets about certain decisions we have made regarding dying, death and burial issues. Let’s just leave that in the past and entrust it to the mercy of God. Looking forward, we strive to live the teachings of our Church when faced with similar situations in the future.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!