Funny, I was just thinking about that recently…
Catholic church where I attended Mass yesterday morning has a very simple, very well kept cemetery behind the church and a crypt chapel where bishops, priests, religious, and some lay people are buried. Earliest grave c. 1870. Older outdoor graves have been restored as time and weather have worn them.
Episcopal church (where I work as a secretary) has an historic graveyard (earliest grave c. 1700) with a columbarium (most recent interment January 2006). By policy, the gravestones are left to age and, if they break apart or fall down, they are not restored – to the dismay of the local historical society. Current thinking of the rector and vestry is that they show “from dust we are and to dust we will return” However the shrubs and grounds are well kept.
Unitarian Church, (which I passed on my way to an ecumenical Lent service), had a graveyard not as old as the Episcopal church’s but the gravestones had all deteriorated much more quickly and the foliage and vines had completely taken over so that there wasn’t so much as a path through the cemetery. This cemetary is about the same age as the Catholic.
Lutheran Church (where this week’s ecumenical service was held, with the preacher being our own Catholic pastor, who did a great faith/works sermon), the grave yard was much like the Episcopalian one, although not quite as old, probably about 1750.
Any how, I was impressed by the Catholic respect for the bodily remains and memories of those who had passed into larger life, while musing on on how the cemeteries of the protestants grew less and less respectful of the bodies of the dead and more ready to let them decay and allow their monuments to fall and be taken over by the elements. My wanderings today illustrated for me the reality of the Catholic belief in the resurrection of the body, and the Catholic understanding of the communion of saints. Funny how, the further removed from the Catholic Church the cemeteries are the less reverence is shown to the remains of those who have gone before us.
Perhaps this is just my region of the country, but it is interesting.