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What Catholics Need to Know About Cremation

“What Catholics Need to Know About Cremation”


Many Catholics continue to have questions about the Church’s teaching on cremation. Some are unaware that the Church does permit cremation. Others think it is okay to have their “ashes” scattered under their favorite tree.” Then we have family members who want to divide the “ashes” into separate pieces of jewelry so that each family member can have a “part” of mom or dad. I once encountered a man who came into the parish office with two saltshakers. He wanted a priest to bless them. When I explained that we normally do not bless saltshakers, he replied that they contained his mother’s ashes



An understanding of the history of the Church’s teaching on cremation may be helpful. Prior to 1963 the Church frowned upon cremation. Historically cremation was associated with pagan practices whose religious beliefs did not include an expectation of resurrection. Consequently, the early Christians buried their dead. Thus, the practice of cremation implied no hope in the resurrection of the body.


In recent times, however, the focus on cremation shifted to economic concerns rather than theological concerns. At the same time, many families wanted their remains sent to another state for burial, which raised issues of geographical concerns.  Thus in 1963 the pope lifted the ban against cremation. In 1997, permission was given to have cremated remains at funeral masses.


By virtue of an indult granted by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, the celebration of the Funeral Liturgy, including Mass, in the presence of the cremated remains of the body of a deceased person is permitted in the diocese of the United States of America. . .” [OCF, 426].


What You Need to Know About Cremated Remains at Funeral Masses.


Although cremation is now permitted, as long as it is not chosen for reasons contrary to Christian teaching, there are some important facts that you need to know before you decided on cremation.


The Church strongly prefers that cremation take place AFTER the Funeral Mass. The presence of the body most clearly brings to mind the life and death of the person. In this instance the body is present in a casket for the Funeral Mass. Cremation then takes place after the Funeral Mass.  Burial of the cremains takes place after cremation.


Although it is preferable to do cremation AFTER the Funeral Mass, a Funeral mass with cremains present is permitted.


Cremated remains must be entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium or buried in a grave in a cemetery. They may not be scattered on the sea, in the air or on the ground. Cremated remains may not be divided and portions of the cremains may not be placed in jewelry or other objects. Cremated remains may not be kept in the home of a family member. The Funeral Mass will not be permitted without documentation showing that the cremains will properly be entombed or buried.


The above information is very important. Many times families of the deceased are upset to find out that they cannot respect the wishes of the deceased to have their cremated remains scattered etc. If you are doing pre-funeral planning with funeral homes, or have the option of cremation in your will, it is important that you are aware of Catholic teaching regarding cremains.


Cremated remains are treated with the same respect as the body in the Catholic Church. Thus the cremated remains should be placed in a worthy vessel. In making decisions about cremation, please contact Sr. Linda Gaupin at Holy Family parish if you have any further questions. You are also invited to pre-plan your Funeral Mass by contacting Sr. Linda at 407-876-2211 Ext. 209.