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From the Pastor 11/05/17

"Father, what about Cremation?”

During the month of November when we are remembering our deceased loved ones, it is appropriate to reprint my bulletin piece on cremation. The Church has always taught that both in life and in death the body must be treated with respect as a temple of the Holy Spirit. From her beginning the Church prohibited cremation because it was a pagan ritual contrary to the Church’s teaching about the sanctity of the body. In 1963 the Church removed its prohibition of cremation assuming that the danger of the previous concern was now minimal. The Church still strongly recommended bodily burial in the 1983 Code of Canon Law:

“The Church earnestly recommends the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed.” (Canon 1176.3.) The Code adds that cremation is still forbidden if a person has chosen it to deny Catholic teaching, such as the resurrection of the body and life eternal.

On March 21, 1997, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States was granted an indult from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Disciple of the Sacraments and the Supreme Pontiff Pope John Paul II, for the funeral rites in the presence of the cremated remains of the deceased. The faithful are granted the full rites of Christian burial when a family decides to have their loved ones cremated. In the Order of Christian Funerals with Cremation Rites there are important clarifications for the Christian faithful concerning cremation. Allow me to quote from the Cremation Appendix:

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.

Sometimes, however, it is not possible for the body to be present for the Funeral Mass. When extraordinary circumstances make the cremation of a body the only feasible choice, pastoral sensitivity must be exercised by priests, deacons, and others who minister to the family of the deceased. When the choice has been made to cremate a body, it is recommended that the cremation take place after the Funeral Liturgy.

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, the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and 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.

It is very important that the Catholic faithful understand all the following points:

  • The Church still prefers the burial of the body over cremation.
  • It is recommended that cremation should take place after the funeral Mass. Only under “extraordinary circumstances” should cremation take place before the funeral Mass.
  • Plans should be made for the cremated remains to be buried in a grave in a reasonable amount of time if the interment does not take place immediately after the Mass.
  • Scattering cremated remains is not reverent disposition.
  • The Church requires that the cremated remains be interred.

In the past few years since the indult was granted we have had to deal with several families that do not make plans to have the cremated remains interred in a grave. When the pastor has to remind the family of this important point, he may be perceived as insensitive to a grieving family. In no way do we want to be insensitive, but at the same time we want to be obedient to the Church.

The Church recognizes the importance of laying our loves ones to rest, not only because they are dust and unto dust they should return, but also because the surviving family needs closure to their grieving. Keeping the cremated remains poses a real burden to this needed closure in our lives. Holy Mother Church knows best and we should indeed be obedient to her wishes.

May Our Lord, Mother Mary and St. Joseph bless you,

Rev. André-Joseph LaCasse, O.P., Pastor