With this next series of posts, taking us through OCF 215, we’ll examine the instructions for the final gestures of care for the remains of the deceased, and the prayers that help mourners entrust their beloved to the company of saints and the care of God.
204. The rite of committal, the conclusion of the funeral rites, is 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. Whenever possible, the rite of committal is to be celebrated at the site of committal, that is, beside the open grave or place of internment, rather than at a cemetery chapel.
This text precedes the 1997 Appendix on Cremation, hence there is only mention of the crematorium, not the columbarium. The Church approved cremation before that document and even before the promulgation of the OCF in 1989.
In one parish I served, the clergy there commented on the funeral home’s regular practice of “sanitizing” the graveside experience: no lowering of a casket into the grave, no placing shovels of dirt. My pastor bemoaned that people were deprived of a final gesture of farewell. The words and music of the funeral Mass can at times obscure the leave-taking rather than underscore it.
I suppose there’s truth to that. When my father died fifteen years ago, we had a memorial service and now my younger brother has an urn with ashes … somewhere in his house. For me, the realization and the tears did not come until months later.