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Cremation Guidelines

Cremation Guidelines

Cremation Guidelines of the Vatican

New instruction from the Vatican restates the doctrinal and pastoral reasons for the Church’s burial preference for the remains of the faithful. The Church continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased because this shows a greater esteem towards the departed. Nevertheless, cremation is not prohibited unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian faith.
 When cremation of the body has been chosen, the human cremated remains of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place (i.e., a Catholic cemetery). This helps to ensure that due respect is shown to the faithful departed and that they are included in the prayers and remembrance of their family and the Catholic community.

Human cremated remains of the faithful departed should not be scattered, or kept in one’s home, nor should they be divided among family members.

In 1963, the Catholic Church lifted the prohibition forbidding Catholics to choose cremation. The permission was incorporated into the revised Code of Canon Law of 1983 (Canon #1176), as well as into the Order of Christian Funerals.

Since 1997, the Church’s Funeral Rites may be celebrated in the presence of the cremated human remains. It is the Church’s preference that its funeral rites take place in the presence of the body of the deceased and not in the presence of the cremated remains, “since the presence of the human body better expresses the values that the Church affirms in its rites.” (Reflections on the Body, Cremation, and Catholic Funeral Rites, Committee on the Liturgy, NCCB, 1997) Assurance must be given that cremated remains will be properly buried or entombed. If a family indicates that the remains are to be scattered or disposed of in an inappropriate way, the cremated remains may not be present in the church for a funeral liturgy. Scattering is contrary to Catholic teaching that says the cremated human remains should be handled with the same reverence with which we handle a human body.

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, and the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the 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 on the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires. (OCF no. 417)

The rite of committal follows the church service. The Church strongly recommends that a memorial plaque or stone recording the name of the deceased be placed where the cremated remains are buried or entombed. (OCF Appendix, 417)

Finally, the burial of the faithful departed in cemeteries or other sacred places encourages family members and the whole Christian community to pray for and remember the dead, while at the same time fostering the veneration of martyrs and saints.

For more information on cremation and the proper disposition of cremated remains please contact us.