The Roman Catholic Church and Cremation


 

As a Catholic, may I be cremated?

Yes. In May 1963, the Vatican's Holy Office (now the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith) lifted the prohibition forbidding Catholics to choose cremation. This permission was incorporated into the revised Code of Canon Law of 1983 (Canon # 1176), as well as into the Order of Christian Funerals. It then became standard practice to celebrate the funeral liturgies with the body and then take the body to the crematorium. Most recently the bishops of the United States and Holy See have authorized the celebration of a Catholic funeral liturgy with the cremated remains when the body is cremated before the funeral.

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Do I need to ask permission to be cremated?

No, but it is a good idea to discuss your reasons with your pastor or other parish minister.

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When should cremation take place?

The Church prefers that cremation take place after the full funeral liturgy with the body. However, in the American culture, cremation often takes place immediately or soon after death.

"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 all who minister to the family of the deceased." Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix II)

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Is it necessary to embalm?

When cremation follows the funeral liturgy, embalming is usually necessary. When cremation follows soon after death, embalming is not necessary. Each state has its own regulations in this matter, but generally the rule is that a deceased human body that is not buried or cremated within 24 to 48 hours is to be embalmed or refrigerated. However, simple embalming and the use of a cremation casket need not involve excessive costs.

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Is it necessary to purchase a casket for cremation?

No. The only thing required is a simple container in which the body can be transported and placed in the cremation chamber.

If you choose to have the body present for Mass, with cremation to follow, rental is an option. Many funeral directors offer regular caskets for rent, as well as the special cremation or shell casket which you may purchase.

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What is the proper container for cremated remains?

Appropriate containers (not necessarily expensive) such as a classic urn are proper for the cremated remains. At the present time the U.S. Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy has determined only what is not a proper container. Although jewelry, dishes, statuary and space capsules are now being offered, they are unacceptable in Catholic funeral practices. It is also unacceptable to have your cremated remains made into jewelry, dishes and the like.

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How are cremated remains transported?

It is a matter of personal choice. Individuals personally carrying a deceased person's ashes will often have the added responsibility of packing and transporting the urn. You may wrap the container of cremated remains with the possibility of sending it as accompanying baggage or take it along as carry-on luggage. Some states regulate the transport of cremated remains. Ask the airline office or your state's Department of Public Health for specific before preparing the cremated remains for transport by air. Where no legal regulations exist regarding transport of cremated remains, cremated remains in a standard shipping container are usually sent by U.S. Mail, UPS or another common carrier.

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Must cremated remains be buried/entombed?

Yes. Burial options include a family grave in a cemetery marked with a traditional memorial stone or an urn garden, a special section in a cemetery with small, pre-dug graves for urns, or a columbarium.

People do a lot of different things with cremated remains: some scatter the remains, some keep them at home, some leave the remains at the crematorium or the funeral home. Some choose burial or inurnment in a cemetery.

The Church recommends burial or inurnment of cremated remains as a mark of respect for the human body which was a temple of the Holy Spirit, was nourished at the Eucharistic Table and will share in the Resurrection.

In 1997 the bishops of the United States published a booklet called Reflections on the Body, Cremation, and Catholic Funeral Rites that presents pastoral guidelines for Catholics who choose cremation. In part the US bishops say:

"The remains of cremated bodies should be treated with the same respect given to the corporal remains of a human body. This includes the manner in which they are carried, the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and their final disposition. The cremated remains of a body should be entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium; they may also be buried in a common grave in a cemetery. The practices 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. Whenever possible, appropriate means of memorializing the deceased should be utilized, such as a plaque or stone that records the name of the deceased."

In addition, the value of memorialization is twofold:

Burial or Inurnment Options

The first selection related to burial or inurnment of cremated remains is really the last selection, i.e. the urn to hold those remains which are returned from the crematory. That selection will be guided by the following decisions.
In general terms, there are two options for the final disposition of cremated remains: in-ground burial and above-ground inurnment.

I. Ground Burial of Cremated Remains:


II. Above-Ground Inurnment of Cremated Remains in a Columbarium:

In making the selection of the cremation urn one should keep in mind the location selected - will it be seen or concealed? Does the urn space selected make provision for identification of the individual? Obviously, a glass fronted niche will not do so and therefore the memorialization or the identification will have to be executed on the urn itself.

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What is a columbarium?

A common practice is the entombment of the cremated remains in a "columbarium". It is an arrangement of niches, either in a mausoleum, a room or wall into which an urn or other worthy vessel is placed for permanent memorial. Generally, niches range in price per space from $400. to $1,400.

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May I scatter the ashes?

No. "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." (Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix II)

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May I bury the ashes at sea?

Yes. Burial at sea of cremated remains differs from scattering. An appropriate and worthy container, heavy enough to be sent to its final resting place, may be dropped in to the sea. The burial of cremated remains at sea in this manner seems to be a appropriate alternative to the long-standing and revered custom of a traditional burial at sea. Please consult your local government for environmental regulations. (See Order of Christian Funerals, #405.4)

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May anything be added to cremated remains such as the cremated remains of other persons, pets or other objects?

The principle of respect for the cremated remains of a deceased Christian embraces the deeper belief in the individuality of each baptized person before God. Throughout history, the mingling of remains has never been an accepted practice, except in extraordinary circumstances.

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Who decides if I am cremated?

In most cases you make the decision to be cremated. However, your survivors may decide to have you cremated, generally due to special family circumstances, but rarely against your will.

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How do I make my wishes known?

If you desire that your body be cremated you can make those wishes knows in your will and in documents designed to help plan and prepare your funeral.

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Do I have to honor my parent's or spouse's wish to cremate them?

Out of respect for loved ones, you will want to do all you can to carry out the wishes of the deceased concerning funeral services provided they are in keeping with Church practice. Yet, you must always keep in mind the therapeutic value to the family of celebrating the full funeral liturgy with the body present. This may significantly outweigh your reasons for cremation before the funeral liturgy.

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What funeral rites are celebrated when a person is cremated?

All the usual rites which are celebrated with a body present may also be celebrated in the presence of cremated remains. The United States' bishops have written new prayers and have printed them as an appendix to the Order of Christian Funerals. During the liturgies, the cremated remains are treated with the same dignity and respect as the body.

The following rituals may be celebrated:

Prayers after Death
This ritual is used immediately after death. The presence of the minister, the readings, and the prayers can be of great comfort to the family. (Order for Christian Funerals, #101-108)

Gathering in the Presence of the Body
This ritual can also be of great comfort to family members and friends. It allows for a time of simple prayer and shared silence. (Order of Christian Funerals #109-118)

Vigil for the Deceased
If cremation has already taken place, friends and family may still gather to pray. While it has been a tradition to pray the rosary in some regions, the Vigil for the Deceased in a Liturgy of the Word service, which includes prayer for the deceased and recognition of his/her Christian life. (Order of Christian Funerals #54-97)

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What length of time is there between death, cremation and the funeral Mass?

The answer to this question depends on various factors, just as in the case of funerals with the body. The place of death, the location of the crematory, scheduling a time for cremation, the schedule at the parish church, and other circumstances impact the timing. Once all arrangements have been made, you should generally allow at least one day between death and the celebration of the funeral liturgy.

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What happens at the Funeral Mass with cremated remains?

Significant attention should be given to the primary symbols of the Catholic funeral liturgy, as stated in the Order of Christian Funerals and its commentaries. The paschal candle and sprinkling with holy water are primary symbols of baptism and should be used during the funeral Mass. However, the pall is not used. Photos and other mementos may be used at the vigil, but are not appropriate for the Mass. During the Mass, the cremated remains should be treated with the same dignity and respect as the body. They are to be sealed in a "worthy vessel." They may be carried in procession and/or placed on a table where the coffin normally would be with the Easter candle nearby.

The body is always laid to rest with solemnity and dignity. So too, the Order of Christian Funerals provides for the interment of cremated remains (Order of Christian Funerals, #428).

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CANON LAW TITLE III: CHURCH FUNERALS


Can. 117 S 1 Christ's faithful who have died are to be given a Church funeral according to the norms of law.
S2 Church funerals are to be celebrated according to the norms of the liturgical books. In these funeral rites the Church prays for the spiritual support of the dead, it honors their bodies, and at the same time it brings to the living the comfort of hope.
S3 The Church earnestly recommends that the pious customs of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.
A common practice is the entombment of the cremated remains in a "columbarium". It is an arrangement of niches, either in a mausoleum, a room or wall into which an urn or other worthy vessel is placed for permanent memorial.


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