Pastoral note encourages the faithful to bury cremated remains of the deceased

DETROIT — Three weeks before the Catholic Church commemorates the faithful departed with All Souls Day, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron released a pastoral note highlighting the Christian aspect of burial.

The pastoral note, “An Act of Mercy and Faith," released Oct. 8, quotes Pope Francis, who in 2016 called upon the Christian community to do corporal works of mercy during the Year of Mercy, which include burying the dead.

“An act of mercy and an act of faith: With these two foundational assertions, Pope Francis summarized a Christian’s approach to burial," Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “‘It is my burning desire,’ he stated while introducing the Jubilee Year, that ‘the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face over poverty.’"

In the Archdiocese of Detroit, Archbishop Vigneron noted that the local Church has taken steps to make Christian burial more accessible in response to changing norms in modern society’s view of funerals and final resting places.

“Pastors in the archdiocese have observed for years now a shift in our societal expectations toward funerals, and have regrettably noted that this has begun to influence even the Catholic faithful," Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “Perhaps swayed by a materialistic and overly practical approach to life, many have begun to see this noble act of mercy as an unnecessary luxury, or even an inconvenience."

Archbishop Vigneron called upon the faithful to look at Christian burial as an act that serves two distinct functions.

First, offering a dignified burial on holy ground is an act of charity, uniting the deceased with their brothers and sisters who have gone on before them, the archbishop said. And second, the Catholic Church buries someone in the hope they will rise again, a bold proclamation of the Gospel message that men and women are destined for a world beyond this one.

“We know that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and because of this fact, we believe in eternal life, the Resurrection of the Dead and the communion of saints," Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “The funeral vigil, Eucharist and committal (burial or interment) announce to us, through the readings, homily and prayers, the glorious news that Jesus is alive. This is Pope Francis’ insight in calling burial a ‘great act of faith.’"

Archbishop Vigneron said funerals and cemeteries are vehicles for evangelization, a proclamation that death is not the end, but rather is another stage toward eternal life.

Every Catholic deserves a dignified burial in a sacred place as a sign of the Christian belief that death is not the end, but an entrusting of a person’s soul to the care of Jesus, who will raise each person on the last day, Archbishop Vigneron wrote. 

“We proclaim through our actions that we are certain our loved ones are not memories, but that they are alive, they will arise and live for all eternity," Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “Joyful missionary disciples know that God does not allow his creation to pass away. We witness to who our God is by the way we care for our dead."

Calling to mind God’s commission to bury the dead and remember the faithful departed every time the Eucharist is celebrated, Archbishop Vigneron praised Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services’ “Gather Them Home" campaign, during which Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown and St. Joseph Cemetery in Monroe will be hosting a Mass on All Souls Day, Nov. 2, followed by a committal service for the ashes of those who have not yet received a proper burial.

Archdiocesan cemeteries have accepted ashes of the deceased for a few years now, through its All Souls Remembrance program for families who do not have the financial means to purchase their own niche to inter the remains of their loved ones.

“The need for such an initiative has slowly developed over the past few decades," Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “It has become fairly common for Catholics to choose, either for themselves, or for those they love, to have their bodies cremated upon passing from this life."

The “Gather Them Home" initiative is meant to highlight the cemeteries’ invitation to all to bury their loved ones with dignity, even if it’s been years since the person died and their ashes were not buried, for whatever reason.

“I know there are a variety of reasons for this: a desire to be close to the ones we are grieving, a lack of financial resource to purchase a suitable burial place, or even an inability to arrange for a committal during the short time that family is in town," Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “The point here is not to critique the reasons, but to offer now the opportunity to reverently place these sacred remains in a sacred place."

The Catholic Church teaches everyone deserves the dignity of a proper burial on holy ground, the archbishop wrote, as a reminder that all on earth will return to the earth, and that the souls of men and women are meant to carry on beyond this world.For this reason, Archbishop Vigneron encouraged anyone who might have the cremated remains of a loved one at home or other places besides a cemetery to prayerfully considered taking advantage of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services’ committal services on the third Friday of each month at both Holy Sepulchre and Our Lady of Hope cemeteries.

“It is the conviction of the Church that the earthly remains of our brothers and sisters in Christ deserve to be properly committed to a sacred place," Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “Our cemeteries are extensions of our parishes: places for prayer, reflection, hope and remembrance. And from those sacred places, those buried there will rise on the last day."