Rest in Peace

by | Jun 6, 2024

What do we mean when we say “rest in peace?”

The phrase was first found on tombstones sometime before the fifth century, typically in Latin, requiescat in pace. The words were part of a prayer, wishing the “soul of the faithful departed” rest and peace in eternal life. The phrase became frequently used in the 18th century when we often saw the words on gravestones abbreviated to simply, R.I.P. 

As the phrase became more common, the meaning evolved to include the physical body that was wished peace to lie in the grave until the soul and body will be reunited at the Second Coming of Christ.  Fr. Roland Guilmain reflects on it this way:   “We must respect our body as a gift from God. We also must take care of our soul.” (Catholic Digest, Nov 2020)

One way that we can respect the body is to indeed let it “rest in peace.”  This includes cremated remains which the Church instructs should be treated with the same respect that you would a full body.  These days, it seems that disinterment is becoming more common.   Some people want to move their loved one to a new location when they move to a new house.  We should consider that human remains are not an object or a product.  They are the remnant of a precious life that is in God’s care.  Perhaps consider memorializing them in other ways rather than moving them.  Plant a tree in their honor.  Put a decorative stone in your garden.  My best friend died 30 years ago and recently, his sister gave me a lovely print with his photograph and a calligraphy message that essentially said, “I’m still with you.”

“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.”  (Wisdom 3:1-3)

We can respect the remains of our lost loved ones by truly letting them rest in peace.  They aren’t “present” in the grave as they were in life, but we carry them always in our hearts.  I’ll never forget what a friend said to me when my father died, “He will be with you now in ways he never could be before.  He’s no longer limited to only a physical presence.”

Let’s carry our loved ones in our hearts and allow their bodies to rest in peace.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace