Cremation: What Does the Church Teach? | St. Benedict's

Cremation: What Does the Church Teach?


by Rev’d Fr Christopher Smith, STD/ Ph.D., KHS, Pastor

A few weeks ago, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an instruction entitled: Ad resurgendum cum Christo. In it, the Vatican addressed some issues that have come forth about cremation.  “Following the most ancient Christian tradition, the Church insistently recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places.  In memory of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord, the mystery that illumines the Christian meaning of death, burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body.  The Church who, as Mother, has accompanied the Christian during his earthly pilgrimage, offers to the Father, in Christ, the child of her grace, and she commits to the earth, in hope, the seed of the body that will rise in glory.  By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity. She cannot, therefore, condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the “prison” of the body. 

“The Church raises no doctrinal objections to [cremation] since cremation of the deceased’s body does not affect his or her soul, nor does it prevent God, in his omnipotence, from raising up the deceased body to new life. Thus cremation, in and of itself, objectively negates neither the Christian doctrine of the soul’s immortality nor that of the resurrection of the body. The Church continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased. Nevertheless, cremation is not prohibited, “unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine”. 

“When…cremation of the body has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place… From the earliest times, Christians have desired that the faithful departed become the objects of the Christian community’s prayers and remembrance… The reservation of the ashes of the departed in a sacred place ensures that they are not excluded from the prayers and remembrance of their family or the Christian community… The conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted… The ashes may not be divided among various family members and due respect must be maintained regarding the circumstances of such a conservation… It is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects.” 

“When the deceased notoriously has requested cremation and the scattering of their ashes for reasons contrary to the Christian faith, a Christian funeral must be denied to that person according to the norms of the law.” 

We should always encourage the traditional Christian practice of burial. The Church does not encourage, but only tolerates, cremation. Either way, whether the remains be a body or ashes, they should be treated with respect. If for some reason you have the remains of any person in your residence, it is time for them to be interred in a sacred space, surrounded by the prayers of the faithful. 

SOURCE: Prince of Peace Catholic Church bulletin, December 4th, 2016

If you have human remains that need to be interred, please contact your local Catholic parish or Diocese for information on how to proceed. 

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