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Natural Burial

Within the Catholic Tradition

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In addition to full-body burial and burial of cremated remains, The Catholic Cemeteries has dedicated a restored prairie environment at Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights for natural burial.

What is Natural Burial?

The term “natural burial” represents a broader spectrum of burial options than does “green burial” which is more definite and conservation-based. An existing cemetery that adds a natural- burial section determines the rules, regulations, and limitations while maintaining the integrity that is foundational to the values of green burial.

In other words, a natural-burial section may occasionally use machinery if necessary, but no chemicals would be used when preparing the body of the deceased nor while maintaining the cemetery grounds. The concepts put forward by such organizations as the Green Burial Council would be adhered to as much as possible.

For more information on Catholic Green Burial options, check out Lee Webster’s article for the Green Burial Council called “To Lie Down in Green Patures”.

A history of natural-burial practices

When the body of Jesus was removed from the cross, it was washed, wrapped in a cloth shroud, and placed in a tomb.

For many years, most burials took place in a similar manner. These practices changed in the U.S. around the time of the Civil War when bodies were transported long distances for burial. By treating the body with embalming chemicals to prevent decomposition, the body became suitable for transportation and viewing.

A physician— Dr. William (Billy) Campbell— and his wife, Kimberly, initiated the natural-burial movement in the U.S. They opened the first “green cemetery” in North America at the Ramsey Creek Preserve near Westminster, South Carolina, in 1998.

Renewed interest in natural burial is influenced, in part, by people’s desire to honor their loved ones in a manner that is perceived as being sensitive to the environment.

A Catholic perspective

We commit the body to the earth, “For we are dust and to dust we shall return.” People are taking this belief to heart with a desire to return to a more organic, less industrial approach to death and burial. Due to timing issues and logistics with natural burial, it is imperative—when at all possible—to do pre-need planning with Resurrection Cemetery, the funeral director, and with the parish. The complete Order of Christian Funerals remains the norm; however, working out the celebration of the rites may need adjustment.

Pope Francis—whose reverence for nature led him to choose his papal name inspired by that of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology—is committed to the sanctity of nature and the need to respect and protect it. The Pope’s leadership influences Catholics to be mindful of our natural environment and dedicated to having a gentler impact on our planet.

Archdiocesan priest, Father James Notebaart, wrote in an article, “Today we have begun to step back to much earlier practices, those of the preindustrial world in which there was a more organic sense of how all things are related, both natural resources and the human use of them. This awareness is shaping a new articulation of ecological ethics, of which Pope Francis is a leading proponent.

Natural burial now available at Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights, MN

Of the five cemeteries that comprise The Catholic Cemeteries in the Twin Cities, natural burial is only available at Resurrection Cemetery at this time.

The area designated for natural burial at Resurrection is located to the southwest of the Chapel Mausoleum. One can access the area from the front of the mausoleum by following the sidewalk along the west side of the building to the area’s entrance feature, “Gate of Heaven Preserve”, which has been certified as an Approved Provider for natural burial by the Green Burial Council.

When a burial occurs, the body of the deceased will be transported to a gazebo for a committal rite. In addition to serving as a committal gathering site, the gazebo provides a place for prayer, rest, and reflection in the natural burial area.

The “Gate of Heaven Preserve” sections are named after two scriptural saints, two historic saints, and two contemporary saints. Click here to read more about the saints and to view the map. As the gravesites become occupied, native perennial flowers will be replanted to grow on top of the graves. Eventually, the natural burial area will resemble an uninterrupted prairie.

Rather than placing individual headstones or grave markers, the name of the deceased, along with birth and death years, will be listed on a permanent community monument in the area in which the deceased is interred.

The natural-burial process

In the natural-burial process, the body of the deceased, and the earth to which the body returns, are treated with reverence. The body is not embalmed with chemicals nor is it enclosed in a typical casket and lowered into a concrete vault.

Instead, during the natural-burial process, the body of the deceased may be wrapped in a natural-fiber shroud or placed in a container made of biodegradable material such as unfinished wood or wicker, and buried at a site that is dedicated to natural burial.

Preparing for natural burial

Because the body is not preserved through embalming, some funeral preparations need to be in place. The body can be washed, wrapped in a cloth shroud made of natural fiber, and placed in the grave. The wrapped body can also be placed in an open or closed container that is made of materials that decompose such as pine, wicker, or bamboo.

If the body of the deceased is clothed, the clothing must be made of natural fibers such as cotton, linen, wool, or silk that will decompose. The garments should be free of all plastics and metals such as buttons, zippers, and hooks. Jewelry, belt buckles, and other materials that are not biodegradable also cannot be buried with the deceased.

Costs related to natural burial

Costs associated with a natural burial are similar to those of a conventional burial. The purchase of a gravesite includes a contribution to the permanent care fund and the cost of memorializing a name on the common memorial, thereby saving the cost of a marker or monument. The interment fee (grave opening and closing) is paid at the time of burial; with natural burial, no outer burial container is required.

Check back soon for pricing options!

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Interested in learning more about burial and memorization options?

Bob Zimmer

Tracy Flanagan

Patricia Marcou