In the Catholic Church, the second day of November is reserved for praying for the souls of the departed, especially the souls who are seeking absolution in purgatory.
The faithful from all over the world will flock their local cemeteries to pay respects to the tombs of their loved ones who already left this world. In the Philippine culture, however, this holy obligation is performed by Filipinos every November 1, which is All Saint’s Day.
Just a few days prior to this significant event, the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, with the approval of the Holy Father Pope Francis, released new instructions regarding the proper burial of the bod, especially when cremation is chosen.
This document, entitled “Ad resurgendum cum Christo” (To rise with Christ) is relatively short compared to others, but its message is clear and vital to today’ setting.
In its wholeness, three points can be highlighted:
1. Ashes must be interred in the proper Christian way.
In earlier Church rules, cremation is forbidden due to the fact that the soul cannot return to a body degraded to minute pieces. But with the constant changes in our society, the Church saw the need to update it, and cremation was deemed appropriate by the Holy See.
The Vatican said that being God is an omnipotent being, cremated bodies won’t be a hindrance to Him. Today, the number of Catholics choosing to be buried this way is continuously increasing, maybe due to the fact that cemeteries are now overcrowded and cremation is quite cheaper compared to the traditional coffin burial.
Yet, many people are scattering the ashes in the sea or placed in separate tiny bags to be shared by the family members.
The new instruction forbids these kinds of actions, and the Church brands them as forms of “pantheism, naturalism or nihilism” and does not reflect any Christian living whatsoever.
On the other hand, keeping ashes at home are also not allowed.
Cremated bodies must be permanently kept in cemeteries built especially for them, such as a columbarium. Only the local bishop has the power to permit the faithful to do this, but only with extreme need to do so.
The Vatican specifically says that whoever fails to follow these instructions will be denied of a Christian funeral.
2. Cemeteries, just like the Church, are sacred places.
In the Church teaching, three Churches exist.
- First, the Triumphant Church, which pertains to the saints who are now with the Father in Heaven.
- Second is the Pilgrim Church, which describes everyone here on earth who is still living.
- The last one is the Suffering Church, which is composed of the souls who are in purgatory, waiting to gain entrance to Heaven.
These three are all parts of a saintly communion, and the Church will never be complete without one. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, every Christian shared the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, thus making the body a temple of the Holy Spirit.
For this sole reason, the body that is left after death must be given the highest regard. This makes cemeteries, even though they are only filled with dead bodies, are still considered as sacred and part of a holy community and of the whole Church. Early Christians the tombs are a place of prayer and meditation, which many still do until this day.
3. Proper burial is an outstanding expression of love towards the departed.
The Vatican does not condone cremation, yet they are encouraging the faithful to still choose the old way of burial, because “this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased.”
Also, by having a designated place for the dead, it can prevent the faithful from forgetting them, especially in the fast pace of living today. These places are also a good contribution for the sake of posterity, so past generation will never be erased from the knowledge of young people and the generations that are yet to come.
Cemeteries can also avoid the spreading of superstitions which is opposite with Church teachings.
Just like how our loved ones lived in the care of the Church when they are still living, we can continue to do so even when they are gone by giving them proper burial. Either we do it through burying or cremation, it is extremely important that the faith must not be put aside. (Luke Godoy)