Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, with the assistance of Dcn. Larry Grey from St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Sun City, dedicates the new altar at Holy Redeemer Cemetery in north Phoenix April 27. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

Work of Catholic Cemeteries
bears truth of Resurrection

When we bless an altar, we’re professing our firm believe that the risen living Jesus Christ is with us, said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted at a Mass dedicating a new altar at Holy Redeemer Cemetery in north Phoenix April 27.

The portable wooden altar will be used for occasional Masses at the cemetery that primarily serves parishes in the Northeast Deanery and along the northern loop of Arizona State Route 101.

Recalling his late grandmother, who passed away 28 years ago that day, Bishop Olmsted shared how she had been a very strong anti-Catholic. Not until her husband, who the bishop was named for, passed away did her bias begin to fade — of the 240 letters she received, 40 were from Catholics.

“And then she said, ‘Catholics, I think, know how to deal with death.’ I thought that was a pretty good insight and one that began to change her anti-Catholic feelings,” said Bishop Olmsted in his homily. “Catholics know how to deal with death. This isn’t an accident that we’re celebrating the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is when Jesus fulfills for us here on earth His last promise just before He ascends into heaven: “know that I am with you, always, until the end of the ages.” And when is He most with us? His True Presence with us in the Eucharist.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted incenses the new altar at Holy Redeemer Cemetery in north Phoenix April 27. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

It is because we believe in the “resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting” to come, as stated at the end of the Apostles’ Creed, that Catholics know how to deal with death, the bishop said, and the work of Catholic Cemeteries bears witness to that truth.

“All that we do in these cemeteries, including the flowers and the place where we’re celebrating the Eucharist, and the religious symbols, all of those proclaim our firm belief in the resurrection of the dead because the living Jesus Christ is with us,” he said.

Because an altar is the place where heaven and earth touch when Jesus Christ gives Himself as food from heaven, it is appropriate for people to pray for their loved ones who have died.

“Christ feeds us with His own presence, and as He does that, He brings us healing, new hope, new strength, a new confidence that we’re one with Him as we await our own resurrection,” Bishop Olmsted said.

Referencing the day’s Gospel passage from John 14, Bishop Olmsted exhorted those attending the dedication ceremony to not let their hearts be troubled and trust in the promises of Christ.

Maureen O’Connell (left), manager at Holy Redeemer Cemetery, and Mary Pat Wickert, mission and care coordinator for Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Homes, decorate the new altar at Holy Redeemer April 27. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

“Many people through the great services of Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Homes find their troubled hearts are filled with a new sense of confidence that our Redeemer lives and that Christ can be trusted to give us eternal life,” he said.

Joseph Lange, CEO of the Diocese of Phoenix’s Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Homes, affirmed that belief in the Resurrection.

“We pray at our cemeteries, we have Mass at our cemeteries, and there’s no greater tribute to our deceased,” he said. “Our belief in the resurrection is so strong and that’s our Catholic faith and our Catholic identity.”

While the portable altar allows for Mass to be celebrated in different parts of the cemetery depending on the time of day, the long-term goal is to build a chapel at some point. Because there is no chapel at the cemetery, having a portable altar also protects it from the elements.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted celebrates the first holy Eucharist on the new altar at Holy Redeemer Cemetery April 27. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

Mass is typically celebrated twice a year at Catholic cemeteries, Lange said: All Souls Day (Nov. 2) and Memorial Day. Other events may also call for a Mass, such as a dedication. A Mass is scheduled for All Souls’ Day in the Eastern Rite for May 19 at Holy Redeemer.

Maureen O’Connell, who has served as manager at Holy Redeemer Cemetery for three years, said she felt called to serve after father died and arrangements had already been prepared, saying she wanted to help other families to be prepared for death.

“We just want to be here to console and to comfort as our corporal work of mercy and spiritual work of mercy — to comfort the sorrowful and bury the dead,” O’Connell said.

“I think we’re all just really called to this because this truly is not a job anyone can do if you don’t believe in why we’re doing it and have that faith. To me it’s all about faith, and … in our belief in the resurrection and knowing this is not the end.”