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  • The Rev'd Paul Black

Remembering those who have gone before us


A couple of years ago, it was a sobering experience to visit some of the historic World War I battlefields across the Somme in Northern France, including the Belgium town of Ypres. Probably the most striking feature about the landscape was the sheer number of cemeteries and the number graves that exist.

I visited the grave of Private P. E. Sandercombe who was engaged to my grandmother’s sister. Percy left Australia to fight in the Great War and died on 27 February 1917. I laid a poppy to remember his sacrifice and the sacrifice of so many young Australians who never returned.

My great-grandparents are buried in Clermont, Central Queensland. Visiting their graves and reading their headstones gave me real a sense of who I am and where I come from. Their lives and stories are a part of my story and history.

The ashes of my four grandparents are interred at the crematorium in Rockhampton. When conducting funerals there as a young priest, I often took the time to visit their resting places, to pay my respects, to say a prayer and to give thanks to God for my grandparents who loved and helped shape me.

In recent days, there has been a lot of press given to new Vatican rules on cremation, which say that the ashes of cremated Catholics must be buried and should not be scattered on land, at sea or be kept at home. This is because, "new ideas contrary to the Church's faith have become widespread".

The instruction was published in the lead-up to All Saints' Day (November 1), which is a day set aside in the Church’s year when Christians remember with praise and gratitude all those who have gone before us on the pilgrimage of faith.

"Following the most ancient Christian tradition, the Church insistently recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places.

"It is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewellery or other objects," it said.

The Catholic Church, which allowed cremation of its followers in 1963, encouraged families and the whole Christian community to pray and remember the dead.

I am not a fan of scattering ashes. I would prefer that ashes be placed in a cemetery, columbarium, or in the setting of a crematorium garden, etc. For me, it’s important for the departed to have a resting place, so their loved ones and future generations have a place to visit and remember.

#columbarium #headstones #cremation #Vatican #ashes #departed #Christianity

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