Who remembers their Latin? “To rise with Christ” This beautiful phrase encompasses in so many ways the goal of our lives and the teaching of our Catholic faith. To rise with Christ, we must die with Christ: we must “be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). This phrase also begins the new “Instruction regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation” released on October 25 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This document provides clarification regarding the Church’s teaching on cremation and burial. Many people are unaware of the Church’s historical teaching on cremation – dating from the early times of our growing religion when the Church opposed cremation because it was being chosen in open denial of our belief in the resurrection, and because of its historical ties to the persecution and death of our martyrs; to 1963 when the Church said that cremation was “not opposed per se to the Christian religion”; to 1983 when the practice was addressed in Canon Law and given ritual form in the Order of Christian Funerals.
The new Instruction echoes the Church’s teaching regarding cremation as presented in 1963: cremation of the deceased’s body does not affect his or her soul, nor does it prevent God, in his omnipotence, from raising up the deceased body to new life. Thus cremation, in and of itself, objectively negates neither the Christian doctrine of the soul’s immortality nor that of the resurrection of the body.
But it goes further in its teaching of how to care for the bodily remains following cremation: the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted … the ashes may not be divided among various family members … it is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects.
Is this a new teaching? No, this has always been the Church’s position, but it has not, until now, been so clearly spelled out. The document notes that “the practice of cremation has notably increased in many countries, but simultaneously new ideas contrary to the Church’s faith have also become widespread.” And so this instruction is in response to some of these ideas which do not fully represent the beauty of our belief in the resurrection, our understanding that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, that the burial of the dead is a Corporal Work of Mercy, and that prayer for the dead and those who mourn them is a Spiritual Work of Mercy.
What impact should this Instruction have on us today? If you are planning ahead for funeral, cremation, or cemetery services, this provides a framework for your decisions. The Catholic Cemeteries have multiple options for the placement of cremated remains: in existing family plots, in cremation graves, in niches, or in family columbaria. They also offer a variety of price levels and payment terms to suit an individual circumstance. If you have already scattered or divided the cremated remains of a loved one and are concerned about what this Instruction says, the Catholic Cemeteries can offer some comfort. There are many options available to memorialize a loved one, whether on an existing family headstone, on a memorial plaque, or something similar. The Instruction emphasizes that “From the earliest times, Christians have desired that the faithful departed become the objects of the Christian community’s prayers and remembrance. Their tombs have become places of prayer, remembrance and reflection. The faithful departed remain part of the Church who believes “in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church”. [from the Catechism of the Catholic Church 962] This is the clear purpose of the Instruction: to remind us of the importance of remembering and praying for the dead; to honor the remains, legacies, and memories of our loved ones; and above all to proclaim the great hope of our faith tradition: indeed, “ad resurgendem cum Christo”.
The oldest cemetery in Colma has found itself in the midst of the newest gaming craze: Pokemon Go. Yes, even at 129 year old Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, people of all ages are looking for Pidgies and Caterpies behind every tree.
What’s a cemetery to do?
Of course, our greatest concern is for the dignity and respect owed in this sacred space and for the safety of all our visitors. We simply cannot have people wandering about disrupting funeral services or bothering visitors who come to grieve and to pray. Additionally, visitors who are not watching their step can injure themselves by tripping over curbs, tree roots, and uneven ground. The key words to remember are: careful and respectful. If our visitors, playing or not, can be careful and respectful, we welcome them to stay and explore this historic, beautiful cemetery. If, however, visitors are becoming disruptive to our operations, aggravating to the families we serve, or wandering about in an unsafe manner, we will ask them to leave.
Cemeteries are first and foremost sacred space. They are also places of history and art. They hold the great stories of people in our community; they feature beautiful works of art that tell the story of our faith. We want to share these; we invite people to experience them. The positive side of Pokemon Go is that it encourages people to get out and explore their communities. Along with encouraging people to get some exercise while walking, the game also directs people to interesting places: schools, churches, historic buildings, and even our cemeteries. To truly take advantage of the experience, a player should stop and look up – look around: learn about and appreciate these important sites in our neighborhoods and communities. In our own Archdiocese of San Francisco, there are multiple Pokemon Go sites at our churches, monasteries, and cemeteries. A Pokemon Pilgrimage, perhaps? Why not? Get out and learn about these iconic places in our Archdiocese. Stop in and say a prayer. Leave with an extra Eevee and a new appreciation for our incredible community of faith.
As the country prepares to celebrate Memorial Day, Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery will join thousands of Catholic Cemeteries across the United States in a national celebration, “Serving God and Country: A Memorial Day Salute to Our Heroes.” This national program, developed by the Catholic Cemetery Conference, will honor those men and women who died while serving in the armed forces, as well as recognize both our active military and military veterans who have served our country.
At Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Colma, members of Cub Scouts of Pack 347 and Girl Scouts of Troop 31971 will place American flags at the gravesites in the military section (Star of the Sea) in preparation for Memorial Day. On Monday, May 30th at 11am, Rev. Charles Puthota, Ph.D, Director of Pastoral Ministry for the Archdiocese of San Francisco and Pastor of St. Veronica’s Church in South San Francisco, will celebrate Mass at Holy Cross Mausoleum for all the faithful departed. The local celebration will also include the presentation of the colors by the Cub Scouts and Girls Scouts and the opportunity for cemetery visitors to remember loved ones by writing messages on tribute cards.
Also at 11am on Monday the 30th, Mass will be celebrated at Mt. Olivet Catholic Cemetery in San Rafael by Fr. Paul Perry and at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Menlo Park by Rev. Augustine Highlander, OP and Fr. Larry Goode. At 9:30am, Mass will be celebrated at Our Lady of the Pillar Catholic Cemetery in Half Moon Bay by Fr. Joseph Previtali.
We hope you will join the Catholic Cemeteries in celebrating Memorial Day this year.
Purchase a niche at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, Colma along with a specially designated urn and associated inurnment charges, and receive the opening and closing fee for $1. Offer expires June 30, 2016. For an appointment please call 650.756.2060.
Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Colma is hallowed grounds to nearly 400,000 individuals who now are at rest in the hands of God. There are several stories, legacies and timelines that belong to each individual who rests at Holy Cross. Recently, Holy Cross had the distinct honor of hosting members of the United States Coast Guard from Coast Guard Island Alameda, for a special tribute to one of their own. Their pilgrimage, while brief, was of vast importance. The men and women of the USCG came to Holy Cross on a tranquil winter day to honor and remember USRCS Captain Michael J. Healy. (more…)
When it comes to end-of-life bioethical decisions and estate, funeral and burial planning, many people do not know where to begin. Because of this, a great number of people die without having had the opportunity to make funeral and estate plans. And when it comes to making ethical decisions about medical care, many people just don’t know where to receive good advice. The Archdiocese of San Francisco and Catholic Cemeteries are offering a seminar on these topics. The goal is to provide up-to-date information that will be of help to families (more…)
Pope Francis is here! Our Holy Father will visit the United States this week, bringing with him the messages that have consistently marked his Papacy: stewardship and compassion.
In his historic address to Congress and to the United Nations, Pope Francis is expected to reiterate the mandate he set forth in his encyclical Laudato Si: to care for the precious gift of creation. He challenges us to be better stewards of our resources, and to take better care of our planet. This challenge speaks directly to Catholic Cemeteries, especially in California where we are already struggling with a record-setting drought. How can cemeteries live up to the call of Pope Francis? In today’s world, we have an increasing number of environmentally friendly options available to us. From conserving energy and water to planting more trees, your Catholic Cemeteries have already made significant steps forward in responding to this call. Last winter, the Town of Colma presented Holy Cross Cemetery with an award for our efforts in sustainability. There is still more to be done. Currently we are evaluating all our cemeteries for the potential of developing “green burial” areas. There are many “shades of green” available to those planning funeral and cemetery services, from wood caskets to linen shrouds to biodegradable urns.
The other call that Pope Francis has sent out is the call to mercy and compassion. We will soon be observing the Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church. Catholic Cemeteries provide a special, tender occasion to offer mercy and, especially, compassion. Certainly there is the moment when we sit with a grieving family after a death has occurred, offering them support and guiding them through difficult choices. There are also moments of companionship for those facing an imminent death; talking to cemetery employees who have walked that same journey. There are the field workers who see visitors at gravesites, sometimes over many years, and hold their stories – the stories of their loss and their new life. Importantly, there is also the moment of the committal itself – a moment when we hope that we provide everything that is expected of us as Church – compassion and mercy. We support our brothers and sisters in faith; we provide an open door to those who have been alienated from the Church for some reason; we offer a glimpse of our life of faith and the meaningful rituals of our Church for those who are not Catholic. It is a profound moment of compassion and evangelization.
Pope Francis comes as prophet and pastor to challenge us and to comfort us. May God keep him safe in this journey and may we all be moved to follow his call.
When people think upon what their experience has been when dealing with the death of a loved one, there is a looming question that comes up more often than not:
Did this person want to be cremated or buried in a casket?
Traditionally, in-ground burial has long been the ideal for folks of many cultures and backgrounds, including – by and large – Catholics. In fact, for a long time, cremation was not an acceptable form of disposition in the eyes of the Catholic Church. But before we get into the details of Catholicism’s view on cremation, let’s take a look at the larger picture.
While it is true that cost is a factor in answering the “cremation vs. ground burial” debate, there is also the viewpoint of the person themselves. For some, (more…)
Earlier this month, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order requiring significant reduction in water usage in response to ongoing drought conditions. In the order, the Governor specifically included institutional properties such as cemeteries. At the seven Catholic Cemeteries in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, water usage has been evaluated and certain conservation measures have already been put in place. Several of our cemeteries are using reclaimed or non-potable well water; others are not irrigated at all.
Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma is blessed to be situated above a deep aquifer and maintains its irrigation through the use of well water. Because the cemetery uses non-potable water, it is not covered by the recent Executive Order. Nonetheless, (more…)
It seems that one of the most controversial sides of a cemetery has to do with decorations. Most active cemeteries have regulations about what can and cannot be placed on the graves and crypts. Even Dear Abby received a letter about this topic recently. The simplest explanation for the regulations cemeteries have is: safety and maintenance.
For example, we don’t allow candles with real flames on the graves. Believe it or not, we have had to put out fires, re-sod grass, and resurface headstones because of candles. Lighting a candle in memory of your loved one is a beautiful practice, but can be a dangerous practice outdoors in the cemetery. We have memorial candles available by the chapel in All Saints Mausoleum that are a lovely alternative. (more…)