Thanks to Father Fryml for discussion of his recent pilgrimage to Rome with special emphasis on the Catacombs, burial places around Rome of many Christian martyrs with displays of important early Christian art.
In the Catechism
I checked the Catechism to see what references might be therein about the Catacombs. The word is found in only one place, the section on The Eucharist, and it is a reference to the art found in the Catacombs.
1368 – The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. the Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She unites herself to his intercession with the Father for all men. In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. the lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering. In the catacombs the Church is often represented as a woman in prayer, arms outstretched in the praying position. Like Christ who stretched out his arms on the cross, through him, with him, and in him, she offers herself and intercedes for all men.
New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia
There is a discussion of the catacombs from a Catholic viewpoint in the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, lots of interesting information hidden in long and wordy paragraphs. you can read it HERE. I just wish they had better editors and some way to hide the multiple hot-links for easier reading.
- alluvial deposits – materials deposited by rivers – not suitable for catacomb construction
- tufo – soft volcanic rock from which the catacombs were carved (example below)
There is a more-informative and easier-to-read article from Church-Pop, a very strange and suspicious sounding name, which turns out to be “part of the EWTN network” and “under the spiritual patronage of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.” Check it out at the link below. Lots of pictures of the ancient art and simple explanations.
It is interesting that the Catholic Encyclopedia states that, “The catacombs are, therefore, entirely of Christian construction,” while the EWTN link states that by the second century burial in such places had “started to become fashionable for Romans,” even though “These underground tombs, or catacombs, were most famously used by early Christians for burying their dead, particularly martyrs, and sometimes for celebrating the divine liturgy.”
If you find out the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, tell me where to look.
Apparently there are forty to sixty such underground chambers, some many kilometers long, but only four are open for tours. Today all are under the jurisdiction and care of the Vatican.
We were in Rome in 2006 but missed the catacombs. They will be top priority if and when we return.