Cremation and the Catholic Church
For much of its history the
Catholic Church banned cremation as a means of disposition for the dead
for Catholics. Cremation was not allowed according to the Catechism
of the Church, as it was not a proper way to respect the dead, and respect
the human body. This is related to the notion that man was created
in the likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27), and that the body must be ‘intact’
in order to be received into heaven. The Catholic Church originally
banned the practice to counter Roman pagan beliefs, which involved cremating
the dead, as they did not believe in the after-life.
Catholic Cremation is a subject
that has received much debate and attention. Many Catholic churches
still discourage cremation, those that do allow it, will most likely have
certain stipulations to be met. Interestingly the Bible has the words
“ashes to ashes, dust to dust”, which many people take to mean that cremation
is condoned by the scriptures. Being that 18% of our body is constituted
from carbon (the second highest component after water), a cremation fits
the notion of ‘ashes to ashes’.
In Catholic belief, the soul
leaves the body at death, only to be reunited at the end of time.
The body is seen as a ‘holy temple’ to be preserved, and for a long time
Catholics believed that the soul could not be resurrected if the body had
In 1963 the Vatican approved
cremation, although they still would not allow cremated remains to be in
attendance at a mass in church.
By 1997 the Vatican were
revising a new liturgical stance allowing cremated remains to be present
at a mass, and the remains to be treated with the same reverence of a body
in a casket. For this reason, there are still stipulations about
the cremation urns that some churches will accept for a mass.
However, the Catholic Church
still considers that scattering cremated remains is not acceptable, and
keeping ashes in an urn at home is also forbidden. Cremated remains
should be buried in a cemetery or crypt, just as a body would be.
This means that cremation
is an option now for Catholics, albeit with some stipulations.
Being that traditional church
funeral masses can become elaborate and expensive, the acceptance of cremation
within the Catholic Church, has offered a much more affordable, yet still
dignified and holy, alternative to many Catholics.
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