necropolisIt is no surprise to learn that, as land values continue to rise, space for cemeteries gets scarce. I have seen more and more mausoleums be built at the local cemeteries, and they are getting taller as the years go on. But the picture to the right really takes the concept to new heights! The picture is The Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica III, a vertical cemetery in Santos, Brazil. It is the world’s tallest cemetery, with burial spaces on 32 floors. There’s also a restaurant, chapel, lagoon and peacock garden. It has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Santos.

I don’t know what to say really. There is nothing wrong with the concept insofar as Catholic teaching goes and perhaps it is a better or more efficient use of land than our current American approach. It just takes some getting used to.

I might have some concerns too in the event of an earthquake or the like. Also, will the building be maintained well once it is full? But that is a problem even with traditional cemeteries. Here in DC we have had several non-Catholic cemeteries that were full and then went into terrible disrepair (eg. Woodlawn, Congressional and Rock Creek) requiring the local community to come to the rescue. Once a cemetery fills and no longer has an income stream it tends to be neglected. Recent laws require cemeteries to establish an endowment to provide for perpetual care. Hopefully that is the case here.

While we are on the topic, a few random thoughts on Christian burial and cemeteries:

  1. Regular visits to cemeteries have declined in recent years. As the practice of praying for the repose of the dead has fallen (shame on us) there are also fewer visits to gravesides. It is true many are busy, but such visits provide us a way to honor those who have preceded us in death, and gives us a context in which to pray for them and remember our own mortality.
  2. When I go to cemeteries I experience a strange kind of peace. As I look about and see all the head stones it occurs to me that all these people had struggles like me. They had worries, joys, successes and failures, gains and losses. Perhaps like me they got all worked up about things from time to time. But all that is over now. If they were faithful they have gone on to God, perhaps by way of purgatory. Nothing here remains for long. We all return to the dust and our soul flies away. Cemeteries give me a kind of perspective that brings peace. An old spiritual says “Soon I will be done with the troubles of the world, goin’ home to live with God”
  3. The Church does not encourage but does permit cremation. However, a concern has also arisen as this practice increases. It seems to me that not all families are arranging for immediate burial of the ashes. Too often, long periods of time elapse after the funeral but before interment of the ashes. On a few occasions I have had to call the family and gently remind them of the requirement for proper burial or repose in a mausoleum. When there is a body, burial is soon for obvious reasons. But ashes don’t present the same urgency to many. So the funeral Mass comes and goes and the family says they have arranged burial at a later time. But the phone does not ring and I get busy and forget. Let’s be clear, the fireplace mantle is NOT an appropriate place to retain ashes. Proper burial or placement in a cemetery is required and essential. Neither is it ever appropriate to scatter ashes. No matter how meaningful this may seem, human remains are not to be scattered.
  4. Catholic Cemeteries are preferred for the burial of Catholics because the ground is consecrated. It is true that a priest can bless a grave in any non-Catholic cemetery. But the consecrated ground of a Catholic cemetery is special. Further, the Catholic practice of regular prayers for the dead are properly observed in Catholic cemeteries. Each year on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (Sept. 15) and also on Memorial Day masses are offered at Catholic cemeteries. Other devotions, such as stations of the cross and rosary processions are also offered and all the dead buried there benefit from the help of these regular prayers. Catholic Cemeteries are special places for Catholics.
  5. If you don’t think this post is an advent theme, it is. For either Christ will come to us or we will go to him. And we have to be ready for that meeting, by God’s grace.  Remember to pray for the dead. Prepare also for your own death by regular recourse to confession, Holy Communion every Sunday, daily prayer, daily scripture, repent of your sins and pray to be delivered from a death sudden and unprepared. Requiescant in Pace (May they rest in peace).

Here is the (horrifying) burial of Mozart from the movie Amadeus. It shows Mozart being buried in a pauper’s mass grave and using a borrowed casket. Today, in the Church, we are careful to be sure the poor receive more decent burial and Catholic Cemeteries of Washington does provide graves for the truly indigent. A scene like this would not happen today. The music sung in the backgorund is from Mozart’s own Requiem: Lacrimosa dies illa, qua resurget ex favilla, judicandus homo reus. Huic ergo parce, Deus, pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Amen. (Ah that day of tears, when from the ashes rises guilty man for judgment.  Then, spare him O God, kind Jesus, grant them rest).

11 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    What then do you do with a non-Catholic’s ashes who did not wish for burial? My wife and I have both my mother-in-laws and grandfather-in-law’s ashes in our home. We cannot afford a burial plot nor were either of the deceased Catholic and in fact were rather anti-Catholic. Neither if which wished for their ashes to be buried so what should we do?

    • Bender says:

      Chris —

      A hypothetical here, and maybe it will illustrate the answer to your dilemma —

      What if, instead of being cremated with no wish for burial, your beloved departed had expressed a wish that they be stuffed and their bodies placed in chairs in your living room? What would you do? Would you “honor” their wishes and do what they wanted?

      Or would you say, “no, no, no, no, absolutely no way,” and then go and do the right thing instead of merely doing what they wanted?

      To love someone is to want what is right and good for them, and not merely to do what they want or what they think makes them happy. Besides, you are not a moral slave to the desires of another, they do not control you, such that you are morally, ethically, or honor bound to act in a wrong way.

      Same advice to those whose loved ones have left healthcare advanced directives indicating that they want to effectively be euthanized if ever in a vegatatvie state. If someone has asked you to act in a wrong way, you have no obligation to comply; rather, you have an obligation to refuse and to do the right thing instead.

    • Chris, not sure where you live, but if you truly can’t afford to bury of place them in a columbarium, most Catholic Cemeteries will foot the cost. But the Church Law requires burial of all the dead under our purview, not just Catholics. Hence, I would consult a Catholic priest in your area for solutions.

  2. Bender says:

    Just put me in the ground, in a simple wooden box.

    I’ve looked though, and I don’t know of any Catholic cemeteries over here in Virginia. There’s old St. Mary’s cemetery, but I would think that they are full up.

    Back in Ohio, segregated cemeteries were the way to go. Catholics had theirs and the regular folks had theirs. Then again, Catholics had their own separate culture and identity too.

    • Bender says:

      And I will NEVER understand this — well, I guess “curious” would be a polite if imprecise way to put it — desire of some to have their bodies burned up beyond a crisp, all the way to ashes.

      Last time I went to a funeral, back in February, the funeral home was offering these “green funeral” packages, where you could get buried in a coffin that was a wicker basket. Cousin Annie, usually not that quick, took one look and said she figured that those were for the people who were going to hell.

      Nice to be able to burst out laughing at a funeral.

  3. Bender says:

    I suppose I should have put all of this in a single comment instead of three, but I keep thinking of more stuff —

    If you get the chance — and this is probably the last week to see it — go see the movie “The Way,” starring Martin Sheen. I suppose some people might get all bent out of shape over him scattering his son’s ashes while walking the El Camino de Santiago (not really a spoiler there), but it is on the whole a very good movie. Still showing a few places in Virginia and Maryland.

  4. Joe the Pimpernel says:

    Funerals and cemeteries are for providing some sort of “comfort” to the living.

    The dead don’t care. Not one bit. Not now, not ever.

    The very idea of showing “respect” to the dead is bizarre. The time to show people “respect” is when they can actually benefit from it.

Leave a Reply