November 1, 2013

Catholic cemeteries provide ‘extension of our faith’

Gravestones are adorned with Christmas wreaths at Holy Cross/St. Joseph Cemetery in Indianapolis in this file photo from 2005. The cemetery is one of seven Catholic cemeteries owned by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.. (Archive photo by Mary Ann Garber)

Gravestones are adorned with Christmas wreaths at Holy Cross/St. Joseph Cemetery in Indianapolis in this file photo from 2005. The cemetery is one of seven Catholic cemeteries owned by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.. (Archive photo by Mary Ann Garber)

By Natalie Hoefer

Among its list of corporal works of mercy, the Church includes one that is, by its very nature, posthumous: burying the dead.

But this act of mercy demonstrates respect and dignity for the deceased.

And by having its own cemeteries, the Church provides an opportunity for Catholics to perform another work of mercy—comforting the afflicted—in a particularly Catholic way.

“Catholic cemeteries allow people to deal with loss under the faithful umbrella of the Church,” said Tim Elson, executive director of the archdiocesan Catholic Cemeteries Association.

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin said visiting a Catholic cemetery is a reminder to pray for our loved ones who have died in the hope of living in eternity with Christ. (Related: See a list of cemeteries operated by the Catholic Cemeteries Association of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, their locations and Mass times)

He said we are called in a special way during November to remember all of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have died, and still depend on our prayers of support for God’s merciful love. Nov. 2 is the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, which is more commonly called All Souls Day.

“Our Catholic cemeteries are a visible link for us between the living and the departed,” Archbishop Tobin said. “Even in death, we are still a community of faith.

“All the faithful who have gone before us remain members of our Church. We all carry with us the sadness of losing our loved ones, but we can take hope and comfort in knowing that the souls of the just are in God’s hands, and we pray that one day we too will receive eternal life through Christ our Savior.”


While there is a business side to Catholic cemeteries, Elson explained that they also have a ministry component.

“It helps people deal with loss in an environment that is faith-based and familiar,” he said. “If someone wants to sit at a bench and pray a rosary, they won’t feel uncomfortable.”

Since the mid-1800s, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has purchased land for Catholic cemeteries.

Currently there are seven archdiocesan cemeteries: five in Indianapolis and two in Terre Haute.

Catholic cemetery grounds are blessed by a bishop or priest, and are therefore considered to be holy ground. The deceased are thus interred or entombed in a sacred and spiritual environment, reflecting Catholic teaching.

“Our belief in the Resurrection means that our lives go on,” said Elson.

An expression of that belief is the offering of Masses in memory of the deceased at the cemeteries with mausoleums.

In Indianapolis, Our Lady of Peace Cemetery and Calvary Cemetery both host monthly Masses in memory of the deceased. Those two cemeteries as well as Calvary Cemetery in Terre Haute also host Mass on certain memorial days throughout the year, including All Souls Day on Nov. 2.

When it comes to burying the dead, Catholic cemeteries adhere to Church teachings.

“When people come to us for funeral and burial planning,” said Elson, “we can explain the Church teaching on things like cremation. Secular funeral homes won’t care about that.”

While the Church prefers the full physical body be present for the funeral Mass, each bishop can decide if cremated remains will be allowed for the funeral Mass. This practice is allowed in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

When it comes to burial, said Elson, “cremated remains should be treated as the full body would be treated, with the same reverence and respect.

“The remains are not to be split up or spread, and you can’t take the remains home. They must be buried in a traditional in-ground grave or entombed in an above-ground crypt, niche or mausoleum,” he explained.

In accordance with burying the dead as a corporal act of mercy, said Elson, no Catholic will be denied burial in a Catholic cemetery.

“Priests serve as the liaison between the cemetery and families in need,” he explained.

An additional act of charity that Catholics can perform through Catholic cemeteries besides comforting the afflicted is pre-planning their burial needs.

“It’s really a form of responsible stewardship,” Elson noted.

He likens funeral and cemetery pre-planning to purchasing car insurance or setting aside retirement funds.

You may or may not have the opportunity to use car insurance or retirement money, Elson said, but you would be irresponsible if you didn’t have either just in case.

But death, he pointed out, is a certainty.

“Within 24 to 36 hours [of a loved one dying], someone has to make difficult decisions and a sizeable financial commitment without much time to think it out,” he explained.

“It’s a big emotional time, it’s confusing. That’s not the way to do it.”

Additionally, said Elson, funeral and cemetery costs can be large and unexpected.

But when you pre-plan and pre-pay, “your price is locked in,” he said. “That’s good stewardship. If [the real cost] is more expensive at the time of the burial, you don’t have to make up the difference.”

Elson sees Catholic cemeteries as a gift of the Church.

“[Catholic cemeteries are] an extension of our faith. They provide the continued presence and remembrance the life of a loved one, to show that that person lived, loved and was important.” †

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