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FAQ: Questions about Catholic Cemeteries and Burials

Do you have questions about being buried in a Catholic cemetery of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia? If you’re unsure about how to get started with pre-planning a burial or have questions about the intricacies of planning a burial in a Catholic cemetery, browse our frequently asked questions below.

Who can be buried in a Catholic Cemetery?

Catholic cemeteries are generally for the burial of Catholics because the Catholic burial place implies a sharing of common belief and the same community of faith. Therefore, the purchaser of the lot must be Catholic. The archdiocesan cemeteries welcome non-Catholic family members as well. The Church believes that those who were together in life should not be separated in death.

What do I do when there is a death in my family?

If you already own a cemetery lot, and the deceased’s wishes are known, contact the priest from the person’s parish for prayers and for the consolation of those who are gathered in the presence of the deceased. You will also need to contact your local funeral director. The funeral director will make arrangements on your behalf with the cemetery. If you do not have a lot, you will have to visit the cemetery to select a lot for the burial.

Can I purchase a burial lot before a death occurs?

Yes. Because the time of death is often traumatic, with emotional and financial strain, it is advisable to select a burial lot in advance. Thoughtful planning and financial prudence will help avoid hasty selections made at the time of need. The Pre-need Counseling Service of the Catholic Cemeteries Office allows you to make prudent decisions without pressure. All lots and crypts must be paid in full before burial or entombment can occur.

I’ve never liked the idea of being buried "in the ground". Are there alternatives?

For entombment, or above-ground burial, you may choose a crypt in what is commonly known as a community mausoleum. Some archdiocesan cemeteries have a community mausoleum with crypts available for purchase. Families may also erect their own private mausoleum or above-ground crypt in designated areas of some archdiocesan cemeteries. Casket protection is required for all entombments.

Does the Church allow cremation?

Cremation is acceptable, although the Church prefers burial of the body. When cremation is chosen, burial of the cremated remains in a suitable container is required, as they are human remains which should have reverent disposition. Burial may be made in an existing family plot, or in graves and niches specially designed for cremated remains.

I plan to be cremated. What arrangements should be made for my cremated remains?

The remains of cremated bodies should be treated with the same respect given to the corporeal remains of a human body. This includes the manner in which they are carried, the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and their final disposition. The cremated remains of a body should be entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium; they may also be buried in a family lot in a cemetery.

Can my remains be scattered or kept with my family?

The practices of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping the remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires. The cremated remains of a body should be entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium; they may also be buried in a family lot in a cemetery.

I have an organ donor card, can I still be buried in a Catholic Cemetery?

Yes. The donation of a body or specific organs for medical research or organ banks is appropriate and should be arranged in advance. Subsequent burial or cremation of the remains must take place.

Do the Catholic Cemeteries require burial vaults?

Yes. A concrete liner, or a metal or concrete vault must be used for all in-ground burials in the archdiocesan cemeteries and can be purchased through your cemetery. Cremated remains must be placed in a container deemed suitable for burial by the Cemetery Authorities.

When I purchase a burial lot, do I "own" the ground?

Graves and crypts are conveyed by easement which does not convey direct ownership but an exclusive and permanent right of use. Even though the term "deed" is often used, you buy only the right of burial, not the land in a Catholic cemetery.

To whom does the lot pass after the purchaser dies?

Upon the death of the registered owner, interment rights automatically descend to direct blood heirs equally, unless rights are specifically assigned to a particular heir in a will or other instrument. The spouse of the original purchaser always has the right of burial ahead of other heirs.

How can I ensure who can be buried in the lot after I’m gone?

If the lot holder shall have filed notarized written instructions at the main office of the cemeteries as to which member or members of his (or her) family shall succeed to the right of the lot, those instructions shall be recognized by the Cemetery Authorities and shall be followed if such instructions are definite, reasonable and practicable, subject however to the vested right of interment of the surviving spouse.

Can someone who is not a member of my family be buried in the lot?

When a non-blood heir is to be buried (except in the case in which he or she is named by the owner or in the record on file), all other blood heirs must give their permission.
Families should obtain such permissions in advance of need and file them with the cemetery office.

Can I sell my lot to someone else?

The use of a lot is for the lot holder or lot holder’s relatives for interment purposes only and not for resale or profit. When permitted, a person who is not a member of the lot holder’s family may be interred in the lot, but in no case shall a lot holder have any right to sell, transfer, or exchange any right or interest in the lot without the written permission of the Catholic Cemeteries Office.

Can I return a burial lot that I have purchased?

Any unoccupied lots (purchased prior to 5/28/14) may be surrendered without question, and the full original purchase price will be refunded. If a lot is being purchased on a time payment plan, and the family decides to return the lot, the sum paid to date is refunded.

What type of monument or marker is permitted on a gravesite?

The type of memorial permitted in archdiocesan cemeteries depends on the location of the lot within the cemetery. Some sections are designed exclusively for flat markers, while other sections allow for the erection of upright monuments. Memorial options should always be considered when making arrangements to purchase a cemetery lot. An appropriate Christian symbol must be prominently displayed on all memorials placed in the archdiocesan cemeteries.

Do the Catholic Cemeteries sell monuments or markers?

Yes, The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia do sell memorials. See one of our experienced counselors who will guide you through the process of memorializing every life with dignity.

What is "perpetual care"?

More appropriately defined as endowed care, these funds are essential for the continued maintenance and care of lots, roads, buildings and features in the cemetery. A portion of each lot or crypt purchase price is placed in a permanently restricted care fund. The interest earned by the funds on deposit is used to offset the aforementioned maintenance costs.

Does endowed care include care of the headstone?

The family is responsible for the maintenance of the memorial. The cost to repair damaged memorials is often covered by the family’s homeowner’s insurance policy. The cemetery reserves the right to remove a memorial if it becomes unsightly, or if its condition threatens the safety of staff or visitors.

What types of decorations are permitted on gravesites?

Cemetery staff are responsible for the maintenance of the grounds of the cemetery, including grass cutting, planting, and repair of the landscape. Therefore, only temporary displays (fresh flowers, artificial flowers, potted plants) may be placed next to a monument or marker. Nothing can be planted, dug into the ground or placed as an addition to a monument. Cemetery staff remove temporary displays regularly, according to posted notices.