Teaching Our Faith – Work of Mercy: Catholic Cemeteries

Javier Fajardo

This series of teaching editorials explores death and dying and how the church provides pastoral care for those facing death and for their families before and after they have died.

Every person will face the death of a loved one. As Christians, at that moment we will rely upon our faith in Jesus and His promise of resurrection to all who believe. We will turn to the church, where we will be surrounded by a community of believers wanting to express comfort and consolation. Finally, we will gather in a Catholic cemetery, and there we will entrust the remains of our loved one to the care of those who perform this important ministry.

Since the time of Jesus, the burial of the Christian faithful has been part of our Church experience. The personnel of Catholic cemeteries is committed to continuing the corporal work of mercy that describes our ministry now and for future generations of Christian faithful.

Catholic cemeteries exist because of the belief in the resurrection of the body at the end of time. If there were no promise of resurrection and eternal life, there would be no need for Catholic cemeteries.

A Catholic cemetery is a sacred place that the church provides to carry out the religious functions of burial and to care for the resting places of the deceased. As a place dedicated and/or blessed for the burial of the faithful, the Catholic cemetery becomes identified with the local church and gives witness to the faith of those who are buried as well as to the faith of their families.

A Catholic cemetery is sacred, not only because of a blessing or consecration, but also by the sacred function that it performs on behalf of the entire Christian community: It holds the bodies until the Lord comes again in glory. It is sacred because it is a place where prayer and liturgy are celebrated. It serves as a symbol of the extended community of believers, a community unbroken by death.  As its core function and purpose, the Catholic cemetery, in union with the whole church, helps to illuminate the path as we make our pilgrimage from earth to heaven.

A Catholic cemetery is a place that serves the faithful and witnesses the Good News of Jesus Christ and the hope shared in the resurrection. It is a place where the signs and symbols of our Catholic faith are displayed with pride and reverence. It is the appropriate place for gathering in ritual prayer, such as the rites of committal for the dead and the celebration of the Eucharist on the Feast of All Souls.  It is also a fitting place for private prayer and reflection.

A Catholic cemetery also is a place of catechesis that teaches the Catholic belief in the resurrection through the witness of the lives of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.

In short, a Catholic cemetery is a place which brings together a number of elements of the church’s pastoral mission: the proclamation of the Gospel to arouse faith, examination of the reasons for belief, celebration of the Eucharist, integration of the church community and apostolic witness.

Below are some frequently asked questions about Catholic cemeteries and Catholic funerals:

Question: Are the Catholic cemeteries in Louisville part of the Archdiocese?

Answer: Yes, the Catholic cemeteries are an agency of the Archdiocese of Louisville. There are four archdiocesan Catholic cemeteries: Calvary, St. Michael, St. Louis and St. John cemeteries. The central office, which contains all burial records, is located in Calvary Cemetery, 1600 Newburg Road.

Q: Is cremation permitted by the Catholic Church?

A: Yes, in the mid-1960s the prohibition against cremation was lifted with the understanding that burial in a Catholic cemetery is the disposition preferred by the Church.

Q: Why should Catholics be buried in a Catholic cemetery?

A: Catholic cemeteries are an extension of the parish church where those who have worshipped and prayed together in life now await the resurrection of the body in death. The Catholic cemetery provides a resting place that is sacred and shared with all fellow pilgrims awaiting the resurrection of the dead and the promise of life everlasting.

Q: Is it possible for non-Catholics to be buried in a Catholic cemetery?

A: Yes, non-Catholics are allowed to be buried in our Catholic cemeteries. Those who were together in life should not be separated in death.

Q: What if our family has limited funds?

A: The Catholic cemeteries offer a wide range of prices for services and have payment plans for families. As a ministry of the archdiocese, no family will be turned away because of the lack of funds.

“I am the resurrection and the life: whoever believes in me shall not suffer eternal death.”

John 11:24

Francisco Javier Fajardo is the executive director of Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Louisville.

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