Catholic Church and cremation

Question: I would like to know what the Catholic Church believes about cremation. More and more people are being cremated, often for financial reasons. Is this against the Church’s will? Will our bodies be restored again if we are cremated?

— Roy Roberts, Union Star, Mo.

Answer: While cremation was associated historically with non-Christian and even anti-Christian worldviews, the Church today allows for the cremation of Catholics. The practice is becoming more and more common among Catholics, and sSince 1997, provision has been made for the presence of the cremated remains at the funeral Mass.

The official Order of Christian Funerals (OCF) states: “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 the final disposition” (No. 417).

The Church commends the burial of the cremated remains in a definite place. The OCF states: “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. Whenever possible, appropriate means for recording with dignity the memory of the deceased should be adopted, such as a plaque or stone which records the name of the deceased” (ibid.).

There is also a preference on the part of the Church that the cremation take place after the funeral Mass. According to the OCF, “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 expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites” (No. 413).

What are those values regarding the body of the deceased which the Church affirms? “The body of a deceased Catholic Christian is also the body once washed in baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed with the Bread of Life. Thus the Church’s reverence for the sacredness of the human body grows out of a reverence and concern both natural and supernatural for the human person. The body of the deceased brings forcefully to mind the Church’s conviction that the human body is in Christ a temple of the Holy Spirit and is destined for future glory at the resurrection of the dead. ... A further expression is the care traditionally taken to prepare the bodies of the deceased for a burial that befits their dignity, in expectation of their final resurrection in the Lord” (No. 412).

You ask whether our bodies will be restored again if we are cremated. Catholics should have no concern on this matter. Whether we are cremated or dissolve in the earth by natural means, we shall be raised from the dead and, if we are people of good will, we will share in the glory of Christ.

You also point out the financial basis for the choice of cremation over burial in many situations. This difficulty is being dealt with in many areas by the possibility of renting a casket for the funeral Mass so that the body of the deceased can be present, and then having the cremation take place after the Mass. I would encourage people who are doing funeral planning to shop around among local funeral homes to see if they will accommodate this arrangement. Encouraging funeral homes to compete in this matter would not be a bad thing.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.