Here are a few things the Church teaches in regard to Christian burial and our tradition as Catholics. In the first paragraph of the General Introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals it states:
In the face of death, the Church confidently proclaims that God has created each person for eternal life and that Jesus, the Son of God, by his death and resurrection, has broken the chains of sin and death that bound humanity. Christ ‘achieved his task of redeeming humanity and giving perfect glory to God, principally by the paschal mystery of his blessed passion, resurrection from the dead, and glorious ascension.’
Further on it states:
The Church through its funeral rites commends the dead to God’s merciful love and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins. At the funeral rites, especially at the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Christian community affirms and expresses the union of the Church on earth with the Church in heaven in the one great communion of saints. Though separated from the living, the dead are still at one with the community of believers on earth and benefit from their prayers and intercession. At the rite of final commendation and farewell, the community acknowledges the reality of separation and commends the deceased to God. In this way it recognises the spiritual bond that still exists between the living and the dead and proclaims its belief that all the faithful will be raised up and reunited in the new heavens and a new earth, where death will be no more.
These two short paragraphs give us a beautiful picture of what the Church believes and why she celebrates as she does. Many people do not want to acknowledge the pain and sorrow that result from death and therefore seek to minimize the importance of the funeral or forego the celebration all together. The funeral is an essential part of our grieving process and as a people of faith it gives us great consolation to know that we are not alone in our sorrow, the whole Church is with us, and celebrating the Rites affirms our hope in Christ and His promise of eternal life.
Many ask about cremation as so many people are choosing to be cremated as it is presented as a more affordable option and many think that it will lessen the burden on their loved ones. Cremation was previously not permitted by the Church because it was used by atheists to deny the teaching of the Church on resurrection. As that is not a commonplace issue anymore, the Church allows cremation. What is often lacking in cases of cremation is the respect for the remains. Reflecting on this the U.S. bishops state:
What is often overlooked is the Church’s teaching regarding the respect and honor due to the human body. The Order of Christian Funerals’ Appendix on Cremation states: “Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body. The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites” (no. 413).
Ideally, if a family chooses cremation, the cremation would take place at some time after the Funeral Mass, so that there can be an opportunity for the Vigil for the Deceased in the presence of the body (during “visitation” or “viewing” at a church or funeral home). This allows for the appropriate reverence for the sacredness of the body at the Funeral Mass: sprinkling with holy water, the placing of the pall, and honoring it with incense. The Rite of Committal then takes place after cremation (see Appendix, nos. 418-421). Funeral homes offer several options in this case. One is the use of “cremation caskets,” which is essentially a rental casket with a cardboard liner that is cremated with the body. Another is a complete casket that is cremated (this casket contains minimal amounts of non-combustible material such as metal handles or latches).
As we prepare for our own death it is important that we understand what the Church teaches and relate it to our loved ones so that they will know clearly what we want when we die. Oftentimes the family will respect the wishes of the loved one over the teaching of the Church. Our holy mother the Church has been praying for the deceased with her beautiful funeral rites for 2000+ years. She wants to give you the best send off possible. In the fullness of the funeral rites there is a beauty that facilitates the process of grieving and comforts us as we bid farewell to our loved one with the hope that we will see them again and enjoy our relationship with them now in a different way.
For more information about funerals services at St. Andrew, please contact the office.