26 November 2023

Homily - 26 November 2023 - On the burial of the body

The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

In what seems to many people today to be an arrogant claim, Christianity lays claim to the satisfaction of what J.R.R. Tolkien called “the Great Desire, the Escape from Death.”[1] The Christian knows, as does that the author of Beowulf, “that man, each man and all men, and all their works shall die. A theme no Christian need despise.”[2] Yet the Christian knows with certainty that death is not the end of man because the King of the Universe, Jesus Christ, is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

Saint Paul tells us today that Christ Jesus “has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Corinthians 15:22). By the use of this uniquely Christian metaphor for death – falling asleep – the Apostle expresses the Church’s confidence that death is only temporary. It is a turn of phrase we have received from our Lord who said of the brother of Martha and Mary, “Lazarus, our friend, is sleeping; but I am going that I may awaken him from sleep” (John 11:11). He spoke these words when everyone knew Lazarus was dead and sealed in the tomb. Why?

By now it should not be a surprise that we can look to our great patron, Saint Augustine, for the answer:

He spoke the truth. To the sisters he was dead; to the Lord he was sleeping. He was dead to men who were unable to raise him up; for the Lord roused him from the tomb with such ease as you would not rouse a sleeping person from his bed. Therefore, as regards to his own power he spoke of him as sleeping…therefore every dead man sleeps, both the good and evil.[3]

Just as those who sleep will awake from their slumber, so, too, will the dead be raised from death.

When the Lord Jesus rouses us from the slumber of death, when that mighty angelic trumpet resounds in our ears on the Last Day, our souls will be reunited with our bodies by the power of God (Matthew 24:31; I Corinthians 15:52; I Thessalonians 4:16). Our souls will be joined again to our bodies because

The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.[4]

If humanity is to live as God intended, the bodily and spiritual dualities of humanity cannot remain forever separated. When we stand with our physical bodies before the conqueror of sin and death we will look upon the Face of the One who alone can grant us the Great Desire can free us from death (cf. Psalm 23:1).

Christ in Majesty, BL Royal 2 A XXII, f. 14

The criteria upon which the Just Judge will judge us is the measure of his own love. He has bestowed great mercy upon humanity. He nourishes us with his own Body and Blood; he receives us into his open wounds not as strangers, but as friends; he clothes us the garment of salvation; he visited us when we were bound in sin and heals us of every ill. To put it perhaps more simply: he cares for our every need. We, in turn, must care for the needs of others; we are called to imitate the Lord in all things, including his Death and Resurrection.

You may recall that a few weeks ago I mentioned that, “in memory of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord, the mystery that illumines the Christian meaning of death, burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body.”[5] While the ancient pagans cremated the bodies of their dead, the earliest Christians buried the bodies of their dead because the body of the Lord Jesus was lovingly placed in a tomb.

It may seem simplistic to say so, but Christian burial is a fuller imitation of the Lord than is cremation. “By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body, and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity.”[6] The burial of the body is a reminder of the sleep of death from which we will all be awoken. This is why the Church recommends and prefers the bodily burial of her sons and daughters.

For most of her existence the Church denied a Christian burial to those who were cremated. The reason for this was simple: most of those who chose cremation did so to deny the resurrection of the dead. In more recent decades, however, “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.”[7]

The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping the cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires.[8]

If a Catholic chooses cremation, the Church recommends, but does not require, that it be done after the funeral Mass.[9] If the cremated remains are present for the funeral Mass, “the covering of the cremated remains with a pall is omitted” as a way of encouraging the presence of the body, the sign of the resurrection that is to come.[10]

The Church’s confidence in the resurrection of all the dead is born from “the Easter joy that does not stay silent or conceal the realities of pain, of suffering, of effort, of difficulty, of incomprehension and of death itself, but that can offer criteria for interpreting all things in the perspective of Christian hope.”[11] Let us, then, turn to Christ the King and submit ourselves to his reign so that he who has power even own death will awaken us from that seeming sleep to the fullness of life itself. Amen.

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories, in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, Christopher Tolkien, ed. (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2006), 153.

[2] Ibid., The Monsters and the Critics. In The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, 23.

[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on John, 49.9.1-2.

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 362.

[5] Ad resurgendum cum Christo, 3.

[6] Ibid..

[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2301.

[8] Order of Christian Funerals, 417.

[9] Cf. Order of Christian Funerals, 418.

[10] Order of Christian Funerals, 433.

[11] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 28 November 2012.

Homily - 19 November 2023 - On the Christian Funeral

The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Too many of us think we have not received any particular talent from the Lord to be used for the building up of his kingdom. Too many of us are like that servant whom the master in the parable called “wicked” and “lazy” because he kept the single talent he received to himself (cf. Matthew 25:26). The day of his master’s judgment was not a pleasant one for that man.

When “the day of the Lord” comes for each of us “like a thief in the night” – that is, unexpectedly – what will our own time of judgment from the “Master and Teacher” be like (I Thessalonians 5:2; cf. John 13:13)? It will undoubtedly depend on the manner in which we will have used our talents in this life for the building up of the Body of Christ.

The authority of our Master, Christ Jesus, is founded on love (cf. I John 4:8). Christ the Teacher teaches us the manner we love we are each to have and commands us to imitate his love (cf. John15:13; 13:34). If you think you have no talent to offer to God and to your neighbor, you are very much mistaken; in Baptism, each of us has received the gift of God’s charity, of his love, that was given to us to share.

The Christian knows well that when the Master and Teacher returns, 

…he will wish to see the fruits of his love in us. Charity is the fundamental good that no one can fail to bring to fruition and without which every other good is worthless (cf. I Corinthians 13:3). If Jesus loved us to the point of giving his life for us (cf. I John 3:16), how can we not love God with the whole of ourselves and love one another with real warmth? (cf. I John 4:11). It is only by practicing charity that we too will be able to share in the joy of Our Lord.[1]

Yet the Christian also knows that he fails to love every day in ways both large and small. This is why, at the death of her sons and daughters, “The Church, through its funeral rites commends the dead to God’s merciful love and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins.”[2]

While we often think of death as a sort of severance in the relationship with the deceased, the Church knows differently. Indeed,

At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of Baptism and strengthened at the Eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end nor does it break the bonds forged in life. The Church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting Word of God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.[3]

The Church prays for the dead and entrusts them into the mercy of God because, having been joined together in the Body of Christ, we always belong to with those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus.

The Church’s funeral rites take place in what we might call three separate stages: the vigil, the funeral, and the committal. Each of these separate rites is important and, all things being equal, should not be neglected.

Although colloquially usually called the visitation, the vigil is so called because it is supposed to take place not immediately before the funeral, but the evening before. It is becoming more common for the family to choose to have the vigil just before the funeral because it takes less time for them. This may be an important consideration in rare circumstances, but doing so takes away the opportunity for those who cannot attend the funeral to show their sympathy and love to the family who is grieving.

Even if the friends of the deceased have all already dead, the family still has friends who wish to show their love for them. The vigil is a very important moment for the parish and friends of the deceased and the family to show “concern and support for the mourners.”[4] We would do well to provide those who wish to show their love for the deceased and the family as much time as possible to do so; let us not take it away from them.

The funeral is never intended to be what is now frequently called a “celebration of life.” Rather, whether it is within the context of the Holy Mass or outside of it, 

At the funeral liturgy the community gathers with the family and friends of the deceased to give praise and thanks to God for Christ’s victory over sin and death, to commend the deceased to God’s tender mercy and compassion, and to seek strength in the proclamation of the Paschal Mystery.[5]

The Sacraments are never primarily about the one who receives them, but about Jesus Christ and his great love for us; even the funeral liturgy is not so much about the deceased as it is about the love of the one who desires to say to his sons and daughters, “Come, share your master’s joy” (Matthew 25:21).

Because the Church’s concern is always with the love of her Lord, “there is never to be a eulogy” in any of the funeral rites.[6] The word eulogy literally means “good word,” and refers to words of praise spoken of another. In the Church’s liturgy, the one to praised is God himself.

The third stage of the funeral liturgy is the committal, “the final act of the community of faith in caring for the body of its deceased member. It may be celebrated at the grave, tomb, or crematorium and may be used for burial at sea.”[7] In the act of committing the mortal remains of the deceased to the elements and of again entrusting the deceased to the mercy of God, the Church expresses “the communion that exists between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven: the deceased passes with the farewell prayers of the community of believers into the welcoming company of those who need faith no longer but see God face to face.”[8]

In her funeral rites the Church prays again and again that the love of the deceased will be purified and brought to perfection in Christ so the deceased may hear those longed-for words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). As prayer for those who have died, let us never cease to strive to live in such a way that our love will always be a reflection of Jesus’ own love for us. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 13 November 2011.

[2] General Introduction, Order of Christian Funerals, 6.

[3] Ibid., 4.

[4] Order of Christian Funerals, 64.

[5] Ibid., 129.

[6] Ibid., 27.

[7] Ibid., 204.

[8] Ibid., 206.

Homily - 5 November 2023 - On the importance of cemeteries

The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

This month of November is traditionally given over to praying for the dead, both our own beloved dead and the dead who have been sadly forgotten, as well as to caring for their graves.

When he presided over a Mass offered for the Bishops and Cardinals who died this past year, the Holy Father Pope Francis noted that “the Lord halts before the tragedy of death.”[1] He offers this reflection concerning the raising of the dead son of the widow of Naim (cf. Luke 7:11-17):

He is called Lord – the God who exercises lordship over all things – in the very act of showing compassion for a widowed mother who lost, along with her only son, her reason for living. Here we see our God, whose divinity shines forth in contact with our sorrow and grief, for his is a heart full of compassion. The raising of that young man, the gift of life that overcomes death, has its source precisely there, in the compassion of the Lord, who is moved by death, the greatest cause of our suffering. How important it is to communicate that same look of compassion to all those who grieve for the death of their loved ones![2]

This widow’s son was not a close friend of Jesus, as was Lazarus, at whose death he wept (cf. John 11:35). Even so, Jesus clearly interrupts his life to show compassion to this woman. This is part of the example of love he has left us (cf. John 13:34, 15); it is part of what has always distinguished Christians from those who do not know him.

Our care for the dead does not end with the conclusion of the funeral liturgy or even with the burial; rather, our care for the dead must continue until the Lord Jesus returns in his glory. This is so because, as Saint Augustine said, “a man’s body is no mere adornment, or external convenience; it belongs to his very nature as a man.”[3]

The Church looks to cemeteries, where the bodies of her children are buried, as places of “rest and hope” for the same reason: cemeteries are those places where the mortal remains of the baptized, the temples of the Holy Spirit, are placed in reverential honor until they are re-enlivened by the breath of God on the last day.[4] The very ground of Catholic cemeteries is blessed so they also become places of prayer. Saint Damien, for example, prayed his daily rosary within the cemetery of his deceased parishioners.

It is unfortunate that “cemeteries, which once surrounded the local church and were truly ‘holy ground’ and indicated the link between Christ and the dead, are now located at some distance outside of the towns and cities, since urban planning no longer includes the provision of cemeteries.[5] The removal of cemeteries from the central area of our daily lives has likely lead to a lessening of our attention to the dead. “The Christian, who must be conscious of and familiar with the idea of death, cannot interiorly accept the phenomenon of the "intolerance of the dead", which deprives the dead of all acceptance in the city of the living.”[6]

It was once common for Catholics to visit the graves of their family and friends at least in the month of November, keeping in mind that “the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death.”[7] It was once common to leave flowers at the graves of family and friends throughout the year as tokens of love. It was once common to regularly clean the graves of family and friends. How I wish each of these customs were revivified in our day.

While the Church tolerates the cremation of her sons and daughters – unless cremation is chosen to deny the resurrection of the dead – she much prefers and strongly encourages the burial of the body. As Christians, we cannot forget that, in memory of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, the mystery that illumines the Christian meaning of death, burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body.”[8]


In either case, the Church requires the mortal remains of the baptized to be interred in a cemetery or other blessed location, such as a columbarium, to encourage “family members and the whole Christian community to pray for and remember the dead, while at the same time fostering the veneration of martyrs and saints.”[9] At the same time,


through the practice of burying the dead in cemeteries, in churches or their environs, Christian tradition has upheld the relationship between the living and the dead and has opposed any tendency to minimize, or relegate to the purely private sphere, the event of death and the meaning it has for Christians.


Death does not separate the living from the dead; indeed, gathered around the altar of the Lord we are always very near to those joined to Christ, whether living or dead.


Because the Church does not wish us to forget the dead but to remember them in our prayers, she grants a plenary (full), “applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful who, on any and each day from November 1 to 8, devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, if only mentally, for the departed.”[10] A partial indulgence is available on any day of the year to encourage visits to cemeteries and prayers for the dead.


Let us, then, not be afraid to halt before death with the Lord Jesus. Let us not be annoyed to let death interrupt our lives in order to show care to the faithful departed. Remembering our beloved and the forgotten dead to God, let us pray:


Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.

And let perpetual light shine upon them.


May they rest in peace.



May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

[1] Pope Francis, Homily, 3 November 2023.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, I.13.

[4] Blessing of a Cemetery, 1432.

[5] Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, 259.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Vigil for the Deceased, Order of Christian Funerals, 71.

[8] Ad resurgendum cum Christo, 3.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Manual of Indulgences, 29 §1.