The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta  

Office of Catholic Cemeteries

Photo courtesy of Michael Alexander, The Georgia Bulletin

Canon Law

The Canon law of the Church states that the Catholic cemetery is a sacred place. The Catholic Church provides Catholic cemeteries to carry out the sacred religious functions of burial and to care for the resting places of the faithful departed.

Cemetery Ministry

The burial of the dead has always been recognized by the Church as a religious rite and a corporal work of mercy. Many people are involved in this ministry: priests, deacons, religious, musicians, cemetery staff, funeral directors, funeral home staff, and parish members who assist the family, lead bereavement support groups, and support the faithful in praying for the dead.

The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned and burying the dead. (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2447)

For information, go to "Bereavement Ministry"

Order of Christian Funerals

The Church through its funeral rites commends the dead to God’s merciful love and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins. At the funeral rites, especially at the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice (funeral mass) the Christian community affirms and expresses the union of the Church on the earth with the Church in heaven in the one great communion of saints. Though separated from the living, the dead are still at one with the community of believers on earth and benefit from their prayers and intercession. At the rite of final commendation and farewell, the community acknowledges the reality of separation and commends the deceased to God. (OFC, #6)

“I am the Resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will have eternal life." (John 11:24)

For more information on Catholic Funerals, go to "We Believe in the Resurrection of the Dead: A Guide to Catholic Funerals"

Funeral Rites

There are three principle ritual moments in the Catholic funeral rites: “Vigil and Related Rites and Prayers”, “Funeral Liturgy”, and “Rite of Committal.”
“Vigil and Related Rites and Prayers” includes rites that may be celebrated between the time of death and the funeral liturgy. The Vigil for the Deceased is usually celebrated during the wake at the funeral home or church. The Order of Christian Funerals also includes rites for occasions of prayer with the family: “Prayers after Death”, “Gathering in the Presence of the Body”, and “Transfer of the Body to the Church or to the Place of Committal.” (OCF, #45)

The Funeral Liturgy is usually a Funeral Mass, but may be celebrated as “Funeral Liturgy outside of Mass.”

There are two forms of the rite of committal: “Rite of Committal” and “Rite of Committal with Final Commendation”. The former is used at the cemetery; the latter is used when the final commendation does not take place during the funeral liturgy or when no funeral liturgy precedes the committal. (OCF #47)

For more information, go to "The Rite of Committal"

Traditional Burial and Entombment

Historic and full service catholic cemeteries offer single graves, family lots, community mausoleum crypts, private or family mausoleum plots, and lawn crypts. Community mausoleums offer crypt spaces to many unrelated families. Portions of some mausoleums are enclosed, creating a chapel. Garden mausoleums take advantage of the outdoors in landscaped, scenic settings.

Cremation

Cremation has become part of contemporary Catholic practice and is used in about 20% of all funerals. Although cremation is permitted, Catholic teaching continues to stress the preference for burial or entombment of the body of the deceased, done in imitation of the burial of Jesus.

Catholic teaching insists that cremated remains must be given the same respect as the body, including the manner in which they are carried and the attention given to their appropriate transport and placement.

The cremated remains of a body are to be buried or entombed, preferably in a Catholic cemetery.

For more information, go to "Cremation and Catholic Funerals"

Private Mausoleums

The growth of community mausoleums has led to increased interest in all forms of aboveground interment including private family mausoleums. Private family mausoleums are no longer reserved only for wealthy families. Families choose private mausoleum entombment for a variety of personal reasons. For some people, it's a statement of their personality. Others want exclusive, highly personalized memorialization -- and they feel that private mausoleum entombment is the highest form of memorialization.

There are many styles of private mausoleums. Some are simple sarcophagus; others have interior vestibules with bronze doors and stained glass windows. If your family is considering this option, the place to begin is at the cemetery. You will want a fitting setting for your mausoleum. Private estate mausoleums from Rock of Ages are available through the cemetery office.

Headstones

Every person buried in a Catholic cemetery is entitled to memorialization. By its very nature, a Catholic cemetery abounds in memorials. The two most common types of gravesite memorials are upright monuments and lawn-level markers. Upright monuments, often called headstones, usually consist of two pieces of granite. The top part, called the die, contains the design, names and dates. The die rests on the base, which supports and protects the die. Lawn-level markers are constructed from either granite or bronze. Markers are installed flush with the surface of the ground and used to mark individual graves.
Likewise, there are two types of cemetery sections. A monument section allows one monument per lot, usually two or more spaces. The monument size is dependant on the size of the lot. A shrine section has a large statue or feature that acts as the monument for the entire section, with lawn-level markers memorializing individual graves.

Many cemeteries have both types of sections. Some cemeteries, called memorial parks, allow only lawn-level markers. It is important to ascertain in advance that the type of memorial you want is permitted on the lot you purchase.
Memorialization has great significance for survivors of the deceased.

Veterans

Veterans buried in a Catholic cemetery are entitled to an American flag to drape the casket or accompany the urn, a government headstone or maker as allowed by the rules of the cemetery, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate, all at no cost to the family. Some veterans may also be eligible for burial and funeral expense allowance and a plot interment allowance. More information about VA benefits is available at www.va.gov.

Anatomical Gifts

Cemeteries donates grave space and interment services for Catholics who have donated their bodies to science for the Anatomical Gift Program. When studies by medical students are completed, the body is cremated and placed in an urn.

Non-Catholic Family Members

Catholic Cemeteries are operated for the religious and charitable purposes of the Catholic Church through the burial and memorialization of the faithful departed. The Catholic cemetery is a sacred place, a visible sign of our belief in the resurrection, which demonstrates the unity of the living and the dead. Non-Catholics are welcome to share final resting-places with their families, with a minister of their faith officiating at their services. Non-Catholics thus welcomed for burial with their families are allowed appropriate symbols of their faith on their memorial.

Pre-Arrangement

Planning for one's own death is not a sign of hopelessness, but an expression of trust and acceptance of our Lord. Pre-arrangement is an act of love, because it frees your family from the burdens that they may otherwise face at the time of your death.

Funeral planning should involve the Parish, the Catholic Cemetery, and a funeral home. Pre-Need planning enables families to discuss cemetery, funeral, and memorialization options in an atmosphere free from the anguish and grief that accompanies a death.

Grief and Bereavement

Grieving is a natural response to the death of a loved one. People experience anticipatory grief during a prolonged illness. Shock grief comes at the time of death and lingering grief during times of bereavement. The Church extends the healing ministry of Christ through parish grief ministry or bereavement support groups.

For information, go to "Bereavement Ministry"

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)

Links

The Catholic Funeral Plan's Free Pre-Planning Guide