The upcoming feast days in November, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, we will remember with hope all those saints who are in God’s presence, who’ve lived an exemplary life and were carefully examined by the Church to be considered as such. It’s also the time to remember those faithful, everyday Christians, common and ordinary, who with their virtues and limitations, after having died, hope to reach the eternal glory next to the Lord.
On All Souls Day, we remember the “deceased faithful” and we are encouraged to offer a prayer for their soul’s eternal rest. The Church invites us to remember them, to visit them at cemeteries, and to pray for their soul. But, why have we buried our dead? Where does this tradition come from?
Let’s talk more about this which most of us see as something natural and part of the culture, in order to discover the spiritual background behind the burial of the dead.
It’s the last in the list of corporal works of mercy, and with reason. The previous six actions talk about the charitable care of the one who suffers, but when his life ends, we’re also invited to give him a worthy and careful treatment without judging the life or the merits of the deceased, but as an act of love for our neighbor.
In fact, primitive Christians built graveyards before they built temples. The saint yards, before being called “necropolis” (city of the dead) were called cemeteries (bedroom, from the Greek koimeterion). So much that our faith in the Resurrection gave light to a new Latin verb: “deposit”. In opposition to the pagan rite in which there was a “donation” of the body to mother earth, the Christian rite highlights that the body is “deposited” in the earth, awaiting Resurrection. The “deposition” evoked Christ’s promise to recover the buried body.
If our faith didn’t include Resurrection, then we could talk about an individual’s “mortal remains”, but it’s not so, it’s not only a biological package that remains as a waste and that should be discarded in a clean and respectful way, but a body, which rests in peace and ought to be resurrected in the last day.
Although God in His omnipotence is capable of resurrecting the body of a deceased even if it’s been reduced to ashes after cremation, the Church invites us to, if possible, give burial to the body without altering it. (Though cremation has been permitted for some years, it’s still “fervently recommended” to choose burial.) There’s a unity between body and soul, which is precisely what lets us sanctify ourselves and live according to God’s will, and at the same time that unity is to be resurrected in its utmost dignity on the day of our Lord’s the second coming. Our faith in the resurrection is founded in the resurrection of Christ Himself, who resurrected not only in soul, but also in body.
Burying the dead nowadays may seem to many as uncomfortable, unpractical, expensive, and overwhelming. Wouldn’t it be much easier to have an amphora with the ashes somewhere in the house or, better yet, throwing the ashes to sea or at a mountain? We visit the tombs of our dead not only out of obligation but also to pray and to intercede for their soul, which we believe to be purifying itself at purgatory. We call these prayers “suffrages”.
The best prayer we can offer for our dead is through the Holy Mass and the Eucharist, praying for their eternal rest. Every time you go to Mass, remember your departed loved ones and friends; you’re not only remembering them, but through your prayer, you’re helping them purify their soul.
Since the 2nd Vatican Council, there’s an invitation to review with exceptional care the funeral rite, so that it expresses more clearly the paschal character of Christian death. This way, there are three clearly established moments: the vigil for the deceased, the funeral liturgy, and the remains’ farewell rite.
Regarding the vigil for the deceased, it’s an extremely important time to accompany the family, support them in their time of pain, and help them to experience peace through Christ Jesus. It’s recommended to keep praying constantly while your loved one is veiled, whether through the Liturgy of the Hours, the holy rosary, or another form of prayer. It’s not only about a farewell and offering condolences to our relatives, but also about praying for the eternal rest of the one who has died.
The funeral liturgy should ideally be celebrated with the Eucharist, that is, a funeral mass, this is usually left to the family’s and the priest’s judgment according to the context. Therefore, sometimes this liturgy can be made without a Mass, although it’s preferable to celebrate a mass later, in memory of the deceased.
The rite of the remains’ farewell, with which the funeral rites are concluded, is the time in which the body is taken and deposited in his tomb or grave. Whenever its possible, the farewell rite should be celebrated in the remains’ final resting place; that is, it should be done by the open pit, the niche or spot of burial.
Eternal rest grant unto them,
O Lord, and let perpetual light
shine upon them. May the souls
of all the faithful departed, through
the mercy of God, rest in peace.
This article originally appeared: https://catholic-link.com/por-que-enterramos-muertos/
Written by: Sebastian Campos
Translated by: María Isabel Giraldo
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