Catholic Cemeteries

In the solemn observance of a loved one’s passing, the Catholic Church provides a structured and spiritual pathway to honour the deceased. Understanding the significance of choosing a Catholic cemetery underscores the importance of a final resting place that aligns with the deceased’s values and beliefs, offering a sacred space for remembrance and visitation. This guide will help you navigate the traditions and stages of a Catholic funeral and address contemporary concerns.

Catholic Burial Rites

The Catholic faith views the human body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and a participant in the resurrection of Christ. This belief in the resurrection—that the body will one day be reunited with the soul in eternal life—shapes the church’s funeral practices. Historically, these practices have been deeply influenced by the early Christian emphasis on community and commemorating saints. There are three funeral rites which bridge the separation caused by death and the eternal unity promised in faith.

The Vigil

The Vigil is the first of the three Catholic Burial Rites, sometimes occurring days before the funeral mass. This is the time to visit the deceased, pray for them as a community, and commemorate their life. There may be a Service of the Word during the vigil, including readings from the Bible or special prayers for the deceased. This is also when loved ones may choose to share a eulogy. 

A vigil can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the wishes of the deceased and their family. Visitors can go to pay their respects but are not expected to stay for the duration of the Vigil.

The Funeral Mass and Liturgy

The Funeral Liturgy is when the church joins with friends and family in praying for the deceased, most often through the celebration of the Funeral Mass. This is a time to remember Jesus’ triumph over sin and death and the new life he brought through his resurrection.  The church, trusting in the promise and love of God, knows that death is not the end. 

Prayer and Biblical Readings

The priest will then lead the congregation in prayer and read from the Bible. The family can select specific readings or pieces of music to be included, which can be incorporated throughout the service.

Holy Communion

Often, there will be a Holy Communion during the Funeral Mass. If you are not Catholic, or are Catholic but have not received your first communion, you can cross your arms over your chest during the communion, and the priest will give you a blessing instead.

Duration of Ceremony

The ceremony will last around 30 minutes, though it may be closer to an hour if it includes a Holy Communion. The timing may change depending on personalizations made by the family to the service.

The Rite of Committal

The Rite of Committal is when the deceased will be buried, or the urn will be placed in a niche. The priest will wave incense over the casket to represent prayers offered to God, the congregation will pray, and the burial or entombment will be performed. This rite marks the formal separation between the mourners and the deceased in this life. 

Choosing a Catholic Cemetery

Choosing a cemetery that aligns with the values of the deceased and their loved ones is important, as it is their final resting place. Catholic cemeteries, in particular, are consecrated and viewed as an extension of the church. They ensure that people who were together in life will also be together in death. In the hopes of keeping families together, Catholic cemeteries will accept non-Catholic burials, especially in the cases of non-Catholic spouses or family members of a Catholic.

If your loved one was cremated, you’ll want to find a cemetery with a mausoleum, which is a freestanding structure, or a columbarium, which is a room inside the church or chapel. 

Burial Plot Considerations

If they were not cremated, you’ll need to choose a plot for the burial, though many people choose to look for a burial plot while they are alive. Here are some considerations you’ll want to take into consideration when selecting a burial plot:

  • Site location. Somewhere easily accessible for friends and family to visit is ideal, but it should also be a place that holds meaning.
  • Cost. This will vary between cemeteries and the size of the plot. Having a budget in mind during this search is important when weighing various options.
  • Plot size. This will determine how many people can be buried in the plot and the amount of space available for memorials and decorations. 

Catholic Symbols

There are plenty of symbols you may see during a Catholic funeral or in a Catholic cemetery. These can include:

  • The cross. This is the most common symbol found in Catholic cemeteries. It can symbolize Jesus’ resurrection or simply identify the deceased as Catholic.
  • The dove, which represents the Holy Spirit.
  • Alpha and Omega, which represent the beginning and end of life.
  • Angels, who are guardians of the dead. 
  • A lamb. This symbol is often used to mark the grave of a child or infant.
  • A rose. This flower can hold many symbolic meanings, including love, hope, and purity, while also being associated with the Virgin Mary.
  • The Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is a heart pierced and wrapped in thorns, represents Jesus’ love and compassion for all.
  • The IHS and Chi-Rho, which are both symbols of Christ. ‘IHS’ is the first three letters of ‘Jesus’ in Greek, and Chi-Rho is the first three letters of ‘Christ.’
  • The Fleur-de-Lis, which symbolizes divinity, the Virgin Mary, or the Holy Trinity.

These symbols, among others, can be important to communicating something significant about the deceased to visitors. They can represent how the deceased wants to be remembered or what was important to them in life. 

Customs for Unique Circumstances

At Catholic Cemeteries of Ottawa-Cornwall, we understand that you may face unique or challenging circumstances as it relates to the burial traditions of your loved one. Here are a few considerations you may encounter:

  • Cremation: Cremation has been allowed by the Catholic Church since 1963, but special considerations may need to be made. Depending on the deceased’s beliefs and the cemetery practices, the cremated remains should be interred in the ground or placed in a mausoleum or columbarium.
  • Pre-baptism Rites: Children and infants who died before baptism, whose parents intended to have them baptized, may still be celebrated by the traditional Catholic funeral rites. 
  • Considerations for Amputees: If possible, amputated limbs should be buried in consecrated ground, though the hospital may have guidelines for disposal they are required to follow. Speak to the hospital and a pastor about what will be the best option for your unique circumstances.
  • Organ Donation: Organ transplants and donations of bodies to medical science are allowed by the Catholic Church with the understanding that the remains will be disposed of in a reverent manner upon completion of the research, according to the deceased’s wishes.

Preparation and Support for Families

It’s essential to recognize the importance of pre-planning in Catholic burial traditions. This ensures that the rites reflect the values and beliefs of the departed and provide peace of mind to families, allowing them to mourn without the added stress of making arrangements.

The church can offer resources ranging from pastoral care to bereavement groups that offer solace and guidance. Moreover, open communication with clergy and funeral directors is crucial. These professionals can provide invaluable advice, ensuring that the funeral rites are both meaningful and in accordance with Catholic teachings.

At Catholic Cemeteries of Ottawa-Cornwall, we are here to help and support you and your family during this loss. If you have questions about our services, contact us today.