COMMENT: The month of November invites us to reflect on several vital truths in these sacred lands.
Catholics dedicate the month of November in a special way to praying for the dead. The Church even grants a plenary indulgence for souls in purgatory if a Catholic in a state of grace visits a cemetery between November 1 and 8, inclusive, and prays, even mentally, for the dead. (The usual conditions for a plenary indulgence – confession, communion, prayer for the intentions of the Pope and detachment from sin – apply).
Last year, given the COVID pandemic, the Vatican extended the deadline for obtaining this indulgence to all of November. And that has also been extended until this year.
Perhaps we need to think about the meaning of a Catholic cemetery.
Formerly, the cemetery was an integral part of a Catholic parish. In parts of Europe, the parish cemetery was usually adjacent to the church. Think of the British films, where people pass through the “church yard” on their way to church.
While Catholic immigrants worked on building their parishes in the United States, they typically invested their money in three things: a building for a church, a school, and a cemetery. With the decimation of the parishes in this country by the âconsolidationâ or the forced episcopal closure, sometimes all that remains of a once proud parish is its cemetery.
Parish cemeteries, like parish schools, have also given in to diocesan takeover for many years. Nowadays, the opening of a new parish is rare, but a new parish also establishing its own cemetery is even rarer (although there have been cases here in Virginia).
Beyond economics and politics and even sociology, however, we seem to have forgotten the theology of a cemetery.
Cemeteries remind us that âthe Churchâ is not limited to the visible or to us, here and now, with the help of parish envelopes. On the supernatural level, the Church is threefold: the triumphant Church (in heaven), the suffering Church (in purgatory) and the militant Church (on earth).
But even at the earthly and visible level, the Church cemetery reminds us of several vital truths. Cemeteries challenge a very “here and now” mentality that forgets those from which this parish or ecclesial community arose (just as our attention to the present makes us forget our responsibility to transmit what we have received).
The cemeteries remind us that the âEcclesial Community of Xâ in this city and this city is only at a stage of its own journey as a militant Church towards the suffering and / or triumphant Church. What is especially true of parish cemeteries is that they were continuities of neighbors: those who were resting together had actually prayed physically together in their churches. And cemeteries break the contemporary conspiracy of silence over death by reminding us “as we are today, so will you be tomorrow.”
Once upon a time, we referred to Catholic cemeteries as “hallowed” or “consecrated lands”. We don’t do it so much now, to our detriment. These terms remind us that death is also, if not above all, a spiritual event, experienced within the framework of the ecclesial community. This is why Catholics traditionally and instinctively wanted to be buried in Catholic cemeteries. This is also why the Church has discouraged (if not outright banned) municipal or “non-denominational” cemeteries.
It is bad enough that we have lost the ecclesiology of the Catholic cemetery. The increase in incidents of desecration of cemeteries, in particular on the occasion of Halloween, shows how much we have lost the sense of the sacredness of the final resting places … insofar as they still exist.
With the widespread practice of cremation, even among Catholics (which the Church allows but still recommends burial), cemeteries are disappearing. Yes, Catholic cemeteries today run a thriving business in “columbaria” (places to store ashes) and the Vatican’s most recent document on cremation insists that cremated remains be placed in a cemetery.
But cremation opened the door to treating the body as insignificant, something that could be destroyed. How many ashes are still kept on coffee tables, coats or cupboards, even in Catholic homes? There is even an industry that fuses the ashes into “souvenir jewelry”. Even more radically destructive elimination from the human body, for example alkaline hydrolysis, is also gaining popular approval.
About 20 states legally allow “alkaline hydrolysis,” a process by which the body is heated in water and potassium hydroxide to break it down into a pure liquid that can be poured down a drain or scattered around. another way. Other “organic” methods of accelerated decomposition deliberately break down the body, so that what is left can be “used” in your garden or elsewhere in nature.
The common denominator is that there is no need for cemeteries because the bodies disappear, considered to be of no more importance than organic waste to be “recycled” for more “useful” purposes.
Catholics should sound the alarm bells about how far we have strayed from the Judeo-Christian body as a “temple of the Holy Spirit.” I fear, however, that between the silence of the bishops and the tolerance of the laity, Catholics are embarked on this redefinition of the reality of human incarnation.
All the more reason to take you to a cemetery – a Catholic cemetery – in November.