The promise of eternal life with God once the earthy journey of a faithful disciple has ended is the greatest hope, comfort, and strength of our Catholic faith. As St. Paul taught the Christian community of Thessalonica:
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers [and sisters], about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep. [...] Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words. (I Thessalonians 4:13-14, 17-18)
Uplifted by the knowledge that Christ has won for us the victory over death, we can begin to understand what he proclaims in the Gospel: "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). As Christians, our comfort is the Resurrection and the hope of new and eternal life.
It is natural to desire burial near those with whom we have formed bonds of friendship and love. As Christians, however, we also have spiritual bonds with one another that exist in virtue of our shared faith. Throughout history, Christians have been buried near other Christians in places that have been blessed and dedicated for prayer and remembrance.
Although Catholics may be buried or interred in non-Catholic cemeteries, burial in a Catholic cemetery reaffirms that we remain brothers and sisters in Christ, united even in death. Indeed, when the Church gathers at a Catholic cemetery to commend the deceased to God, we find ourselves surrounded by the graves and tombs of those who died in the hope that they, too, may share in new and everlasting life. In Catholic cemeteries, the faith of the deceased resonates with the living, and we realize that they did not die in vain.
In those circumstances when the deceased is buried or interred in a non-Catholic cemetery, the priest or deacon blesses the site of burial or interment.
What we believe about death guides how we live our lives. As Christians, we must carry life's crosses and bear loss with hope in our hearts. We must gaze upon the bodies of the deceased and remember that through Christ, "the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them" (Matthew 11:5; Luke 7:22). Unlike many in our secular society, we do not turn away from death nor allow ourselves to believe that death is the end. Trusting that God "will wipe every tear" (Revelation 21:4), we stand before him in grief but not in despair. The funeral rites of the Catholic Church, which I have endeavored to explain briefly, invite us to live the virtue of hope. Through these rites, Church responds to death by celebrating the hope of eternal life. As the Church's liturgy helps us to pray and affirm during the funeral Mass:
"In him the hope of the blessed resurrection has dawned,
that those saddened by the certainty of dying
might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come.
Indeed for your faithful, Lord,
life is changed not ended,
and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust,
an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven."