Why go to the cemetery to pray at a loved one’s grave?

We believe and hope that our beloved departed are with God. Why should we therefore bother about their dead and entombed bodies? What is a cemetery? What is the significance of the cross and that of the flowers laid on the tomb? Why go to the cemetery to pray at a loved one’s grave?

Clearly, we believe and hope that our beloved departed are with God, that they see Him face to face, as He is. Our stance on the mystery of death and on the afterlife is that of faith and hope, set on Heaven. It is not riveted to the earth where the mortal remains of our departed lie. However, it is because of our faith and hope, that we have to visit and pray at the cemetery.

Blessing of the tombs at the cemetery la Chapelle-Montligeon on All Souls Day.  (2021)

Why pay attention to dead and entombed bodies?

When we die, our soul enters into the life pledged by God whilst our body returns to the earth. “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The words the Lord addressed to Adam are also for each of us. It does not mean that our body would have become valueless after death, it is not a kind of wrap that the soul would have merely deserted. Hence the importance of caring and respecting the body, thus the importance of a visit at the cemetery. The body is called to resurrection. In a mysterious way, we will recover it at the end of time.      

Thus the prayer that we can say at the cemetery: « Lord Jesus Christ, prior to rising from the dead, you remained three days in the tomb, this then, the tombs has become for the faithful a sign of hope in the Resurrection. We pray to you who are the Life and the Resurrection to grant the deceased to rest in peace in their tombs until the day when you shall call them back to life so that they may see with their own eyes in the radiance of your face, the everlasting light. You who reigns now and forever. Amen!” 

Bénédiction des tombes au cimetière de la Chapelle-Montligeon
Rev. Fr. Don Pierre Gazeau blessing the tombs at the cemetery la Chapelle-Montligeon on All Souls Day.  (Our Lady of Montligeon 2021)

What is a cemetery?

The cemetery is an important place of remembrance. Names of those who have passed away. We learn from the Bible the importance of names, which are much more than mere conventional means of designating someone. Names on graves are even now a promise of a life that does not expire. In the Book of Revelation, “Only those will enter whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev 21, 27) will enter the celestial Jerusalem.

Above all, for us Christians, the cemetery is a place of prayer, one might say a place of worship. Thus the importance of being attentive to care for its symbols and signs.

The cross and the flowers: what is their significance?

The cross turns the tomb into a kind of liturgical place where the living are conveyed not only to the absence of the one who passed away, but also to his (her) existence in the mystery of God. When choosing the tomb of a loved one, let us not put the cross aside in favour of a blurred and meaningless symbolism.

As for flowers, they represent much more than a mere custom to follow. In pure utilitarian standpoint, flowers, by nature resplendent, fragile and ephemeral, are of no use. Thus they compel us into another logic, that of love. It is therefore not surprising to come across them as a Valentine’s Day gift, as well as in the church or at the cemetery. Love is stronger than death! 

Rev. Fr. Don Bertrand Lesoing, csm

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