As we come to the close of our consideration of the Order of Christian Funerals in this most recent series of ti morceaux, there are still a few more things to note. After looking at the liturgies and final disposition of the body, you might think we are finished, but not quite.
Once the remains of the deceased are laid to rest in a grave, tomb, crypt or columbarium, the faith of the surviving friends and family has not ended. So now the resting place of the departed takes on added significance.
I will readily admit that the basis of this originates in our emotions. Although we intellectually know that the body or ashes of a loved one is – since it’s now separated from that person’s soul – no longer the relative or friend we knew, it’s such a ready symbolic reference of that person that we associate it with our memory of them. It’s comforting, in other words, to think of the deceased “at rest” in the cemetery.
What this typically leads to is twofold: a desire to visit their resting place, and to care for it almost as if it were a shrine or memorial to them. In south Louisiana and in many cultures originating in western European and Mediterranean cultures, this take on special significance on the Solemnity of All Saints on November 1 and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls) on November 2. Many tombs are whitewashed and decorated with flowers at that time, and of course on the birthday and often the anniversary of death such visits and décor are common.
But it’s not only family and friends who can and should do this. Prayer for the departed is a requirement of Christian charity, as well as helping us to call to mind our own mortality. The Church prescribes an indulgence, always and only benefitting the faithful departed, for those who visit a cemetery and there spend time praying for the dead. If the visit is between November 1 and 8, the indulgence can be plenary, while at other times or if unable to be plenary for some other reason, will be only partial. (For an indulgence to be plenary, recent sacramental confession and complete freedom from all sin, even venial sin, along with devout reception of holy communion and prayer for the intentions of the Pope must be had.)
So long after the funeral is ended, prayer for the deceased continues. And we benefit spiritually from that prayer as well.