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.

Advent awareness

This past weekend we celebrated the 1st Sunday of Advent.

According to the dictionary, the word advent comes from the Latin “adventus,” which means arrival or coming. Basically, we celebrate two important arrivals at this time of year — the birth of Jesus Christ in a Bethlehem stable more than two centuries ago and the anticipated Second Coming of Jesus at a yet-to-be-determined time in the future.

While most people are running around shopping, or busily addressing Christmas cards, or planning holiday gatherings, the Church asks us to prepare in a different way.

We’re to prepare our hearts to receive the greatest gift ever given. We’re to sweep clean the old, making way for the new. We’re to quieten our spirits, immerse ourselves in prayer, do penance for our failures, and focus on others’ needs through charitable giving of time and possessions.

That’s a lot to ask for in four weeks’ time!

But we don’t have to go it alone. Some churches conduct a one-week mission, in which a special presenter challenges us to more fully live our faith. Others offer a variety of Advent-related literature or activities, including the popular Advent calendar which counts down the days to Christmas, as well as the Advent wreath, with its symbolism of Light coming into the world.

So the mad dash to the mall for “just one more present,” the frantic sending of cards, the elaborate outdoor decorations designed to “keep up with the Joneses” — none of these should be on our agenda. Yes, we have to prepare for Christmas, but no, we don’t have to over-prepare.

As the slogan goes, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Celebrating Death

This isn’t going to be an easy day — shoot, it’s not going to be an easy month!

November typically is the time when we Catholics honor/celebrate/remember our deceased loved ones, starting with All Saints Day on the first and then All Souls Day on the second. The idea is that, by recalling and praying for our faithful dead on Nov. 2, we acknowledge them as still being members of our Church, alive in Christ, and never far from our hearts.

In some countries (Mexico, for instance), Day of the Dead celebrations are joyful ones, with special foods and colorful altars. Other countries hold to the folk belief that souls are released from Purgatory for one day and allowed to return to earth; consequently, some families leave a window open or set a place at table for their dead family members. Still others visit graves, sometimes with picnics. You can read more here: www.fisheaters.com/customstimeafterpenticost12ac.html

Last year at this time, I sailed blissfully through this holiday. Death hadn’t touched my family — other than elderly grandparents and some distant relatives — and, while we attended the required Church services and recited the prayers, it was all more of a ritual than anything else. Not so today.

This past Dec. 31, we lost my dad after a courageous three-year battle with esophageal cancer. Yes, he smoked cigarettes; yes, he drank liquor; and yes, according to his doctor, those bad habits were what killed him.

So tonight, we’ll go to Church carrying a picture of Daddy that will be left on a memorial table for the entire month. We’ll participate in a candle-lighting ceremony, recite the prayers, shed some tears, and probably hug each other a bit longer and tighter. We’ll also try to be kinder and more patient with others.

It’s what Daddy would have wanted.