Cemetery’s Advent Mass offers comfort and connection to those who mourn

A cemetery may seem like an unlikely place to be when people around the world are preparing for Christmas.

However, for Edmonton-area Catholics who have lost a loved one, the Holy Cross Cemetery is where they feel the most connectedness, amidst the gift shopping, bustle and joy of the Christmas season. Families are invited to bring a particularly meaningful ornament to hang on the Christmas tree in the mausoleum building, and each year hundreds join Archbishop Richard Smith for an annual Advent Mass there.

“Our loved ones who’ve died and gone before us marked with faith, are those who are now in the hands of a loving, merciful God. That’s our hope,” Archbishop Smith said in his homily.

“We remain connected at all times to what is true and what is real. And what is true is that God loves us, this God who loves us has become one of us, has assumed our suffering, is with us now in our suffering, and has vanquished death, making it the gateway to eternal life,” Smith told more than 300 people who attended the Mass.

“That is the reality which we claim to be the source of our unshakeable hope, even as we endure the grief of the loss of our loved one.”

The construction of a new administrative building is part of a $10-million expansion at the Holy Cross site. Lincoln Ho, Grandin Media

The Mass was followed by the blessing of a new administrative building for Edmonton Catholic Cemeteries, which operates five cemeteries in the area. The construction is part of a $10-million expansion at the Holy Cross site on Mark Messier Trail.

The demand for Catholic burials is increasing, and the new building provides much needed space for those grieving to meet with family advisers. Previously they often met inside the small personal offices of staff members or in a temporary trailer office.

“It’s just going to be a more welcoming environment certainly than what we could offer (families) before in that cramped little office space,” said Roxanne Burton, manager of Edmonton Catholic Cemeteries.

“We’re starting to get busier and busier that way, and the business has just grown now.”

Burton said many people want to be buried in the same cemetery as their loved ones. Edmonton Catholic Cemeteries handled 868 burials last year, including 229 in the mausoleum. The current expansion will add more than 130 burial crypts to the mausoleum and the potential for 2,500 more memorial niches.

Edmonton Catholic Cemeteries has seen increased demand for its services.Lincoln Ho, Grandin Media

Although many Catholics still choose burial of the body, more and more are requesting burial of cremated remains, or cremains. Burton said these accounted for 55.3 per cent of all burials in 2017, up from 52.4 per cent in 2014. There are also more requests for casket burials in the mausoleum, up from 61 in 2014 to 70 in 2017, with a growing waiting list.

The new building includes a welcoming lobby, additional work space for staff, lunchroom, boardroom, and four family meeting rooms. It also has more than five times the space for record keeping, compared to the old records room.

“It was just packed,” said Burton. “When you added sometimes up to five people looking for a record in here, it was just awful. We were just so crammed.”

When construction is complete in 2020, there will be an indoor walkway connecting the administrative building to the mausoleum; a memorial garden with shrubs, flowers and niche spaces on the side of the walkway; and a new chapel area.