The following comes from a March 17 posting by Monsignor Charles Pope on the website of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
Some years ago, the Church gave wider permission for cremation and also lifted traditional restrictions on having cremated remains present in the church for funeral Masses. All of this is pastorally understandable. Very few if any people these days choose cremation for the reasons it had traditionally been forbidden, namely as a denial of the resurrection of the body. Generally the reasons chosen are economic, due to the increasingly high cost of traditional burial and the difficulty, especially in urban areas, of finding room for large cemeteries. The basic norms from the church regarding cremation are these:
“The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (Code of Canon Law No. 1176, 3).
“Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body. The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites” (Order of Christian Funerals no. 413).
“The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, and the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires” (cf Order of Christian Funerals # 417).
From a pastoral point of view, these norms are clear and understandable. However, as a pastor, I must say that I have growing concerns over practices that are appearing with the more widespread use of cremation.
The norms clearly indicate that cremated remains are not to be scattered, divided, or retained in the homes of the faithful on fireplace mantles, on shelves, or in other places. But these norms are somewhat difficult to enforce.
The problem emerges essentially from the detachment of the funeral Mass from interment. When cremation is chosen, it is common for the funeral Mass to be celebrated quickly but the burial to be scheduled at some “later date” when arrangements can be more conveniently made. Frequently clergy are told that the family will “call back” at some point in the future. But often these calls never come and burials are put off indefinitely.
Issues such as money, logistics, and family disputes are often factors in the delay. Priests, too, are often busy and do not have time to follow up to see if “Uncle Joe” is ready for burial now. As such, many deceased remain unburied for weeks, months, or years, or perhaps never even buried at all.
I was shocked a couple of years ago to discover that a certain Catholic family still had the cremated remains of an uncle on the top shelf of their closet. The delay centered around who in the family was going to pay for the burial lot and debates about whether burial was even necessary at all. Perhaps the ashes could just be scattered out in the woods.
Without the urgency to bury the dead, the burial is often given little regard.
Another concern came to my attention during recent funeral preparations. There was a tense debate going on among the assembled family members as to who would get to keep the ashes and who would not. The crematorium had offered to dispense ashes to different family members in sealed boxes or urns (for a price of course) and the debate seemed to center on whether certain family members were “qualified” to get some of “Mom” or not. Yikes! And when I instructed them that no division of the remains should take place at all, but rather that burial had to be arranged, I was greeted with puzzled stares and eventual “assurances” that such burial would be arranged “in due time,” once the family could work out their differences.
But things have gotten even worse.
Many funeral homes are now offering “jewelry” made from the cremated remains of loved ones or with the remains sealed within the jewelry. If you don’t believe me, click HERE, HERE, or HERE. The ghoulishness and bad taste are surpassed only by the shock of how suddenly such bizarre practices have been introduced. One can imagine the following awful dialogue: “Hey, that’s pretty new jewelry! Was that your Mom’s?” “Well, actually it is Mom!” Double yikes!
Cremation is certainly here to stay. And I do not doubt there are sound pastoral reasons for its use. However, the norms of the Church insist that cremated remains be treated with the same respect as the body. And just as we would not scatter body parts in the woods, or divide up limbs and torsos to distribute to family members, or put fingers into resin and wear them as earrings, neither should we do this with cremated remains. These ARE the remains of a human being and they are to be buried or placed in a mausoleum with the same respect due the uncremated body.
I think pastors are going to have to teach more explicitly on this matter and that bishops may need to issues norms that will help to prevent problems. One helpful norm might be to refuse to celebrate a funeral Mass until proper burial is scheduled. I am unclear if a pastor alone can do this, but surely a diocese must also have an increasingly firm and clear policy of which people are widely informed.
Simply permitting cremation without well-thought-out policies has proven to be a mistake. I pray that a post like this may provoke thought from all of us in the Church as to how to deal pastorally with a situation that is degrading quickly. We must do some teaching, but we also must not cooperate with bad practices.
The website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has proposed a possible solution for Catholic cemeteries to offer to families who are financially unable to bury the cremated remains of loved ones:
“For some families, the choice of cremation is based on financial hardship, so this choice often means also that there is no plan for committal or burial of the cremated remains. As a means of providing pastoral support and an acceptable respectful solution to the problem of uninterred cremated remains, one diocese offered on All Souls’ Day in 2011 an opportunity for any family who desired it the interment of cremated remains. The diocese offered a Mass and committal service at one of its Catholic cemeteries and provided, free of charge, a common vault in a mausoleum for the interment of the cremated remains. The names of the deceased interred there were kept on file, though in this case they were not individually inscribed on the vault.“
In my Diocese the Funeral Mass is celebrated as soon as the remains are available not sooner.
This can be controlled by the Pastor.
It is always best to put your Funeral arraignment wishes/requirements in writing giving copies to each of your closest relatives, and executor if you have one.
It is also best to make arraignments in advance such as funeral home or crematory (crematories are approx. $1,000 less for the same services), and have them pre-paid. And the site or columbarium at a Catholic cemetery.
CCC: ” 2301 Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research.
The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious.
The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body. ”
Remember that the CCC was promulgated by Pope John Paul II back on
Aug 15, 1997, so this is nothing new.
There is not one Catholic cemetery in my Diocese.
And the secular cemetaries only have reserved areas for Jews, not another reserved location for Christians.
Therefore the secular cemetaries are tacky and disrespectful, having memorials with golf clubs and footballs right next to Crosses.
I live in Florida Ted B, and have noticed the same disrespect in secular cemeteries for Christian burials.
And my Diocese does not have a Catholic cemetery in the entire Diocese.
Perhaps we live in the same Diocese.
Burying loved ones need not be excessively expensive. Skip the embalming and the “viewing” (both of which I consider bizarre practices) and unnecessary add-ons offered by the funeral home.
About cremation: When you are given the “cremains” do you really know what (who) you are getting? And keeping grandma in a cookie jar on the fireplace mantle or hidden in a closet is also pretty bizarre.
Put them in the ground and never forget to pray for them.
Skip funeral homes to save money, and sign a contract with a Licensed crematorium.
The Catholic Church (and the State) does not permit burial on private property but must be in a licensed cemetery site in accord with State law.
(Code of Canon Law 1180)
Purchase your own final resting place, at a Catholic cemetery if possible.
Many times the Diocese will have Masses said or prayer vigils at Catholic cemeteries at certain times of the year.
Contact your Diocese Bishop if your Diocese does not have a Catholic Cemetery.
Burial of the Dead is a Corporal Work of Mercy.
Adults in my family try to plan and pay for their own burials. This is much less stress on loved ones.
Btw Barbara, do you have a clue how much a cheap casket, cement burial vault (so the ground does not cave in), opening and closing the grave, plus perhaps a small modest flat headstone on the ground costs ? – Cheap it is not.
An offering to the priest for a Funeral Mass is about $250;
and this does not include an organist, one small flower arrangement, any remembrance cards, etc.
The Catholic cemetery is an extension of the parish community and in particular is an icon the believing community who lived and died together in Christ Jesus.
The Catholic cemetery’s existence is rooted in the reality of the human person as an embodied spirit.
By reverently laying to rest those who have died, caring for those who grieve, and
maintaining cemeteries as sacred places for prayer and reflection, cemetery personnel
provide a service to the Church by joining together the living and the dead.
Thus, the Church encourages the burial of Catholics in Catholic cemeteries and prayerful visits thereafter.
When Mom died, Dad went off the deep end. Was in hospital, didn’t know if or when he’d be released. Siblings and I decided on cremation, we didn’t want to keep her (sorry if this sounds offensive) on ice or embalmed and stored at the funeral home. After the cremation, we had a rosary/vigil service and funeral Mass, with the remains present. She was interred in the Diocesan cemetery. We did not intend any disrespect and made the best decision we could under the circumstances.
Having encountered a similar situation with the family of a friend after their Mother passed- I reminded them that their Father had been a Veteran and was interned (decades earlier) in a National Cemetery – and the Law Allowed for His Wife to be buried along side him – For Free.
This placated all the interests present, and provided some healing for the family in the re-uniting of Mother & Father – despite the decades between their passing.
I do believe that National Veteran’s Cemeteries prefer (and may require) cremation, but cannot say for sure.
However – if there is a Vet in the Family, the Spouse is also included in the Death Benefit / Cemetery, and family should look in to this before spending money on an Industry that will gild the lilly and then bury it – for a Price.
My poor mother was cremated and her ashes scattered by my father and brothers. I had no power in the matter. It broke my heart. Their reason was financial….they didn’t want to spend the money (of which they have plenty). Soon my father, age 92 will die and my brothers who are in charge will do the same to him. I have pleaded with them to respect the body as the temple of the Lord and to bury the ashes in holy ground. Whenever the Church allows something (cremation, contraception, divorce and remarriage) it’s a slippery slope to perdition.
A Catholic friend recently cremated her husband and will put his ashes in the garage with her mothers ashes. How sick and desrespectful can one get?
The Trappist Monks hand-make wood coffins. They are beautiful and only cost $2100. We bought ours on pre-need basis, along with our plot at Catholic cemetery. Everyone should prepare for their death and have everything paid for (small monthly payments over a long period) and in place before you die…….We also put all our last wishes down in writing. Requium Mass, prayers for our souls. It’s not about our lives on earth, it’s about getting into heaven. Funeral’s are not for the survivors, it’s for the soul of the deceased.
” Funeral’s are not for the survivors, it’s for the soul of the deceased.” – This is so true.
Due to the commercialism and money to be made – the human Soul many times takes back seat to the secular.
Have your plans made, and paid for as much as possible.. Let people know you want and need prayers.
$2,100 for a wooden box is crazy. In our area we have cremation services for $650. More than $1,000 to cremate and have a service for a dead person should be the highest anyone should have to pay.
Important REPEAT: “ The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come.
This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, and the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition.
The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium.
The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires. ”
(cf Order of Christian Funerals # 417).
Of the Catholics I’ve talked to who insist on cremation when they die, the theme seems to be the same. They think that spending so much money on a dead body is stupid. They say they are dead anyway so what difference does it make if they are burnt up. To me this does not square with Catholic teaching which says that the body whether alive or dead does have value and dignity. Their views on cremation sound pagan to me.
This gem from St. Augustine, “On the Care to be Had for the Dead” (Ch. 2:3):
“The embalming of a corpse, the situation of the tomb, the funeral procession, are a consolation to the living rather than assistance to the dead. Yet it does not follow that the bodies of the dead are to be neglected or flung aside, especially not the bodies of holy and faithful ones, since these bodies were once the instruments and vessels used hallowedly by these souls to do all their good works…The bodies of the dead are not to be uncared for in any way, since these bodies are dearer and nearer to us than any garment..”
(ch. 4) “Should some emergency prevent the bodies of the dead from being buried at all, should lack of facilities hinder them from resting in a holy place, prayers for the souls of these dead should not be neglected.”
I am with Tracy regarding the gradualism that has set in since the changes in the last decade or so permitting cremation: now the mortal remains are no longer respected, and worse, the resurrection of the body is put seriously in doubt. Can Ezekiel 37:1-14, the re-embodiment of dead bones be true? Cremation and irreverent disposal of the cremated remains feed that doubt.
Let us remember that “life after death” is not such a rare belief—many other religions and even agnostics know that a person lives on in some way. But the fundamentally Catholic belief is in the resurrection of the BODY. This dead body, now nothing more than decomposed bones and dust, will somehow be re-integrated and will live again and will see the Son at the Final Judgment: Rev. 20:13: “The sea will give up its dead, and death and hell will give up its dead.”
It is exceedingly hard to believe, when you see the slow inevitable death of a patient from a long wasting disease—cancer, Altzheimer’s, Parkinson’s—that this shriveled husk will be restored to life again. Yet it will be so. Ja aber, cremation and “modern” thinking continues to deaden the conscience to fundamental Catholic belief in the matter.
Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.
God created all of us and reprising that would be no problem.