Funerals: Part II of the Series
In last week’s column we addressed the process of beginning the arrangements for the Funeral after the death of a loved one. A very common question that often arises at this point is if the persons will be buried bodily, or if they will be cremated before burial, and what instruction the Church gives in regard to these questions.
Questions about the presence of the body at the Funeral Mass
It has always been the preference of the Church that the body of the deceased person be present at the Funeral Mass. In fact, there is a different form of the Liturgy if the body is absent, and a slightly modified form if the cremated remains are present.
There are several reasons for this tradition, the first and most important is the correspondence of our death to the death and burial of Our Lord Jesus. He was taken down from the cross, and his body was laid in the tomb from which he rose again on Easter Morning. In imitation of him we are placed in the grave, awaiting the day of the Resurrection.
In times past, there was a concern on the part of the Church, when in certain cultures this correspondence was being called into question, or was being denied by the cremation of the body. In particular, where there was an intention to scatter the ashes rather than to bury them, therefore, there was a very long period when Catholic burial was not granted to a person whose bodily remains were intentionally cremated. Over time that tension has been resolved, and in our time, cremation is generally performed for economic and not ideological considerations. In light of this development, the pastoral practice of the Church does permit the burial of the cremated remains now, however, there remains a preference for the cremation to take place after the funeral when possible. This is not an absolute requirement, but a preference. What has not changed is the insistence that the cremated remains be treated with the same dignity as the bodily remains. Namely, that the cremated remains are to be buried promptly in a grave or mausoleum and are not to be kept indefinitely or scattered.
The ceremony for the interment of the cremated remains at the cemetery is virtually the same as for the body present in a casket. The ground is blessed where the person is laid to rest, and therefore the grave becomes a sign of hope as the place from which our loved one will rise again from the dead when Jesus comes in Glory. A grave site is also a sacred place of remembrance for relatives and descendants to come and pray for the deceased person.
In the next part of the series we will look at the funeral liturgy itself.