Burial customs

The other day I was getting my hair done and casually mentioned we still need to “bury” my dad, who died last Dec. 31.

He was cremated, you see, and according to our parish priest, we need to put him in his final resting place — either a mausoleum or a grave — within 12 months or so.

My stylist was surprised to hear Catholics have so many “regulations” regarding death; didn’t I find that a bit stifling, she wondered.

Not at all.

Life is full of “rules,” or it should be. We learn as toddlers that it’s wrong to hit other people, to strip down to our “birthday suit” and race through the grocery store, to take what’s not ours, and to tell “falsehoods.”

As we grow, we learn more rules — not to drink and drive, to always wear our seatbelts, to never “kiss and tell,” to pay our taxes (preferably on time!)

Sometimes it seems as if we’re assaulted by rules at every turn.

But what kind of world would we have if we had no rules? Not one I’d want to live in.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Catholic Church began to permit cremations, and even then you had to meet certain specifications (burial of the body was still the preferred way of dealing with death).

Fast forward to today, when more than 20 percent of U.S. deaths end in cremation. It’s less costly, to be sure, than burial, though by the time you factor in the urn, the mausoleum, a plaque, etc., your costs are getting up there. It’s also a matter of personal preference — some folks just don’t like the idea of decaying or being placed underground.

Still, the Church looks on the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and believes that body will one day be resurrected; consequently, the body (even a cremated body) must be treated with respect.

Generally, what takes place is a vigil rite, or visitation, held at the funeral home or the church; followed by a Funeral Mass; followed by a Committal Service at the place of burial.

No scattering of ashes on land or sea, no placing the urn in the back of a closet or on a mantel, no transferring the urn from relative to relative.

It’s simple and orderly, really, when the rules are in place, and I find that comforting.