Stop selling space for tombs in church cemeteries
A grave’s role is for a temporary period till the physical body buried in it takes time to decay and join the soil. What is spiritually needed for deliverance of the soul is incessant prayer.
By K.L. Joseph
Today, most of the church cemeteries in Kerala are running out of space for cremation of the dead necessitated by the Corona pandemic. This condition came about due to the selling of space in the church cemeteries for individual as well as family tombs. Sale price for a small space in the cemetery ad measuring 6 ft in length and 3 ft. in width is running in lakhs, depending upon the will and pleasure of various churches. The sale is bound by the condition that the space so sold out in the cemetery for the tomb will be in the possession of the buyer only for a specified period. In fact, sale of space for tombs has become like a lucrative business for the churches. Step into any church in the urban or in the rural areas to find its cemetery dotted with marble tombs which number more than the ordinary graves. An ordinary grave in the cemetery is just a trench dug into the ground to place the coffin containing the dead body. It is identifiable as it will have no concrete work except a slab placed over the mouth of the grave. In the church cemeteries of the earlier times, there was no practice of constructing the marble tombs or concrete vaults. The practice then followed was to place the coffin containing the dead body at the bottom of the pit dug into the ground and fill in the cavity with the excavated soil up to ground level, giving to it the appearance of a mound of earth. So, the spots of graves where the dead got buried at that time were identifiable from the mounds of the earth seen in rows in the cemetery.
An elaborately adorned marble tomb is born out of ego and vanity of the man. Many, who want to exhibit their social status and opulence in the society, have a tendency to buy the space in the church cemetery to build an individual marble tomb or Family Tomb. But after making such ostentatious display by raising an ornate tomb, it is left to remain in a shabby condition allowing dust and moss collect over the tomb and wild grass and creepers grow over them. This evidently gives the impression that nobody subsequently thinks of giving a visit to the burial place to offer prayers for the soul of the departed person and to arrange frequent Holy Mass and office for the dead. Therefore, what Jesus said to the Scribes and the Pharisees (Matt.23. 27-28) while condemning their hypocrisy also applies to the people here of the present generation who build the tomb for their pretentious love and respect towards their own dead:
“How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You are like white-washed tombs, which look fine on the outside but are full of bones and decaying corpses on the inside. In the same way, on the outside you appear good to everybody, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and sins”.
In the Book of Genesis (2: 7) we can read that the Lord God, after he had formed man out of the soil, breathed life-giving breath into his nostrils and the man began to live. One can therefore perceive that it was the soul that finally entered into the person through the life-giving breath of God. The soul is invincible, incorporeal and indestructible. We know where the heart and brain of a person are located, but not the soul. And that is the secret of the life-giving breath given by the Lord God to the man after he was formed of the soil. In other words, the Soul given to the man through God’s breath will go back to God on death of a person by shedding its physical body.
The purpose of burying the physical body after observing all the religious rites is to let it decay and join the soil as per the divine decree passed by God in Genesis (3:19). A grave’s role is for a temporary period till the physical body buried in it takes time to decay and join the soil. What is spiritually needed for deliverance of the soul of the dead from sins and its consequences for admission into heaven is incessant prayer, frequent Holy Mass and office for the dead. Holy Mass is the sacrament for seeking God’s grace for the expiration of sins, if the soul happens to go to Purgatory. As we do not know about the fate of the soul of a dead person viz. whether the dead will join the Kingdom of Heaven or Hell or Purgatory, our spiritual obligations to arrange for frequent Holy Mass in the church and office for salvation of the dead have to be discharged after the burial. There is no spiritual significance to burying of the dead in a marble tomb. Then, why to buy the space in the church cemetery?
It is high time for the Church to stay away from selling space of the church cemeteries for building marble tombs considering fast depletion of its burial space and in view of increase in the number of Christian families newly joining the various parish churches every year under different dioceses. Today, many church cemeteries have no burial space. So the dead bodies being brought for burial are shoved into concrete vaults dug into compound walls. This is not a sign of decent burial of the dead and it is also against the Biblical faith as encapsulated in 3.19 of the Genesis. It will be in the fitness of things if the clergy as well as all the Christians take a cognizance of this command of the Lord.
When God punished Adam and expelled him from the Eden Garden for disobeying his command by eating the forbidden fruit, he said to him: “You were made from soil, and you will become soil again “(Gen. 3:19). So, let the most needed soil remain in the church cemeteries for fulfilling the above words of God. If this scriptural commitment cannot be upheld, why the soulful song “Remember Man, you are dust and to dust you shall return” being continuously blared in the burial procession and in the house of the dead. Does it not amount to the mockery of the Biblical faith?
One should try not for the concrete vault on a church building or on its compound walls, but for the heavenly vault of eternal peace and happiness by living in faith and fellowship with the Lord.
(Photo/Image Courtesy - Unsplash.com)
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