The underground burial locations of early Christians, acted as a sort of safe “refuge” for those entombed in the catacombs below Rome. Here are buried bishops, martyrs and ordinary lay people. These early Christian burial sites were also regular meeting places for Christians where the Eucharist was frequently celebrated, often near the tomb of a saint.
Christian burial in Catholic cemeteries became an even more important part of Catholic practice as the centuries progressed. Often when a community established a new parish, a Catholic cemetery was also established near the church building. Today, Catholic cemeteries continue to be maintained and new cemeteries established, often to serve the regions of a diocese rather than a single parish.
As Catholics, we establish and maintain cemeteries because of a particular understanding of life and death. By reflecting on Catholic burial practices, we can come to a better understanding of a number of articles of our faith, and catch a glimpse of the great plan of salvation that has been revealed in Jesus Christ. These teachings and understandings of life and death are reinforced in the “Book of Canon Law”’.
Canon Law is “the body of officially established rules governing the faith and practice of the members of the Catholic Church.”
Canon 1180-1 specifically deals with “Church funerals” and “ASSUMES” burial in a Catholic cemetery. It states….”if a parish has it’s own cemetery, the deceased members of the faithful must be buried in it unless the deceased or those competent to take care of the burial of the deceased have chosen another cemetery legitimately.” (“LEGITIMATELY” assumes no Catholic Cemetery close by) This canon reflects the Church’s understanding of the parish as the “home” for the Catholic. It is in this communal setting that the sacraments are received, and Catholic life is experienced.