The Church and the Extraordinary Choice of Cremation
As a Catholic, may I be cremated?
Yes; however, given the sacred dignity of the body, the Church recommends that the custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed to await the Resurrection. Cremation is now permitted, but it does not enjoy the same value as the burial of the body of the deceased. In May 1963 the Vatican’s Holy office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith) lifted the prohibition forbidding Catholics to choose cremation. This permission was incorporated into the revised Code of Canon Law of 1963 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 the Holy See have authorized the celebration of a Catholic funeral liturgy with the cremated remains when the body is cremated before the funeral.
Do I need to ask permission to be cremated?
Can I scatter the ashes? May I keep the ashes on my mantle or in my home?
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. 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 into the sea.
May anything be added to cremated remains such as cremated remains of other persons, pets, and other objects?
No. 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.
When should cremation take place?
The Church strongly prefers that cremation take place after the full funeral liturgy with the body. The presence of the body most clearly brings to mind the life and death of the person and better expresses the values that the Church affirms in its rites. However, in some circumstances it may not be possible to have the body present. In those situations, a full funeral liturgy may be conducted with the cremated remains present.
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.
How do I make my wishes known?
If you desire your body to be cremated you can make those wishes known in your will and in documents designed to help plan and prepare your funeral.
Must I honor my parent’s or spouse’s wish for cremation of their body?
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.
Is it necessary to embalm?
When cremation follows the funeral liturgy, embalming is usually necessary. When cremation is to follow 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 hours is to be embalmed or refrigerated. However, simple embalming and the use of a cremation casket need not involve excessive costs.
Is it necessary to purchase a casket?
No, it is not necessary to purchase a casket for cremation. 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 the funeral liturgy, with cremation to follow, rental is an option. Many funeral directors offer regular caskets for rent, as well as the special cremation or shell caskets that you may purchase.
What is the proper container for cremated remains?
Appropriate, worthy containers, 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 containers that are not acceptable. Although jewelry, dishes, statuary, and space capsules are examples of designer containers now being offered, they are unacceptable in Catholic funeral practices. It is also unacceptable to have cremated remains made into jewelry, dishes, and the like.
If I choose cremation, is it necessary to call a funeral home?
Yes and no. In North Carolina, a registered funeral director always performs the embalming of the body (if necessary) and the cremation. However, you are not required to have a viewing of the body at that funeral home.
Can a family member be present at the cremation?
Family members may choose to be present at the initiation of the cremation process. Also, the family can choose to receive the cremated remains at the crematory or some other designated place, such as the church.
How are cremated remains transported?
Transportation of cremated remains 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. Using the principle of respect for the body, 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. Ask the airline office or the state’s Department of Public Health for specific information about your region of travel before preparing the cremated remains for transport by air. Where no legal regulations exist regarding transport of cremated remains, most cremationists ship cremated remains in a standard shipping container by U.S. Mail, UPS or other common carrier.
Must cremated remains be buried/entombed?
Yes. Respectful final disposition of cremated remains involves interment or entombment. 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. Another choice is to be interred in a columbarium.
What Funeral rites are celebrated when a person is cremated?
The Church strongly prefers that the cremation take place after the full Funeral liturgy with the body. However, when this is not possible, such as when the remains must be transported over a long distance, all the usual rites, which are celebrated with a body present, may also be celebrated in the presence of the cremated remains. In an appendix to the Order of Christian Funerals, the United States bishops have included prayers to be used when the cremated remains of a loved one are present in church. The following rituals may be celebrated:
- Prayers After Death
- Gathering in the Presence of the Body
- Vigil for the Deceased
- Funeral Mass or Funeral Liturgy Outside Mass
- Rite of Committal
Should I schedule a Funeral Mass before or after cremation?
The Church strongly prefers cremations to take place after the Funeral Mass. However, if it is not possible for the body to be present at the Funeral Mass, an indult has been granted by the Holy See which provides for the celebration of the Mass or Funeral liturgy with the cremated remains in church.
Do I need permission to have cremated remains in church for the Funeral liturgy?
The indult granting the diocesan bishops of the United States authority to permit a Funeral liturgy in the presence of cremated remains (in place of the body) requires two things. First, the diocesan bishop must authorize this practice for his diocese. For the Diocese of Raleigh, Bishop Burbidge has already authorized it. Second, each individual case requires approval of the Pastor.
What happens at the Funeral Mass with cremated remains?
A journey, which began at baptism, comes to conclusion as we enter into eternal life. 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 are 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 Funeral 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 are carried in procession and placed on a table near the Easter candle.
Is a ritual conducted when the remains are interred in a columbarium?
Yes. The Rite of Committal is very similar to the service conducted at a grave site in a cemetery.