Catholic Church's Rules on Burials

by Lillian Downey

Catholic burials are steeped in tradition. The Church has specific rules on what constitutes a proper Catholic burial that date back thousands of years. Still, Catholicism isn't averse to changing with the times. In the last few decades, new rules have emerged that broaden the options for burials, including where Catholics can be buried and when it's acceptable to be cremated. The rules and traditions regarding burials are likely to differ slightly from parish to parish, but for the most part, the same key set of beliefs guides the process for all parishes.

Funeral Rites

One of the principal rules of a Catholic burial is that the deceased receives the Rite of Committal before interment. The Rite of Committal is a series of prayers that serve as the final goodbye and act of respect and kindness toward the deceased. The Rite of Committal should not take place in the church and it should always come after the wake and funeral Mass. The Rite of Committal can be given to cremated remains.

Cremation

Cremation was banned in the Catholic Church until 1963. When cremations were first allowed, the rules were that a person could be cremated so long as all the other funeral rites were performed on the body. That meant that the body would be present for the wake and the funeral Mass. The ashes still had to be buried in consecrated ground. In 1997, the Church relaxed its position on cremation yet again, allowing cremated remains to be present during the formal burial Mass. The cremated remains still receive the same rites that the body would have. Many devout Catholics still frown upon cremation, but the practice is gaining popularity.

Consecrated Ground

Traditional Catholic doctrine required that human remains be buried in consecrated ground, or ground blessed by a priest and deemed an appropriate final resting place by the Church. The Vatican no longer requires burial in a Catholic cemetery, according to the St. Anthony Messenger, so followers can be buried at the place of their choosing. This applies to both intact remains and cremated remains. Catholics do not have the option of having their ashes spread in their favorite place or kept in an urn by family members. Burying of remains remains an important rule.

Eulogies

Traditional Catholic burials aren't the place for eulogies. The time for eulogies, poems, songs and sharing memories is during the wake or vigil. The wake is the first part of a three-part Catholic funeral that also includes the funeral Mass and the burial. Only very close family and friends attend the burial, which is held at the grave site or mausoleum on the day of or the day after the funeral Mass. Some parishes allow one representative to say a few words prior to the Mass or burial, but typically no eulogies take place.

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