Whether you’re pre-planning your funeral, preparing for a loved one, or simply curious if cremation goes against the Catholic faith, allow me to help you. As your fellow Catholic faithful, I have made it my mission to answer some of the most common questions and misconceptions about our religion. And today, let me discuss about cremation.
Catholics can be cremated under certain conditions. It should not be done for reasons that go against the Catholic faith and values. So if it is chosen as a way to be one with nature or the universe or to be free from being a prisoner of the body, then the sacraments and funeral rites may not be given.
That said, even if the Church insists on burying the deceased, Catholics may choose to be cremated. However, there are certain rules and guidelines to follow. Continue reading to learn what these are.
Catholic Cremation Rules
Through the years, more and more people have been choosing to get cremated. But with lots of new ways coming out on how to memorialize loved ones, each one getting more and more imaginative and commercialized, the Church saw a need to establish rules and guidelines to ensure that one’s body is still treated with respect.
That said, the Church came up with the following guideline, which you can see in the Code of Canon Law (1176, 3):
“The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.”
This is further explained in the Ad Resurgendum cum Christo where it’s stated that the sacraments and funeral rites will no longer be denied to those who ask to be cremated, under the condition that “this choice has not been made through a denial of Christian dogmas, the animosity of a secret society, or hatred of the Catholic religion and the Church.”
So the “trendy” new ways of memorializing loved ones, like using their ashes to plant a tree, putting them in a locket or other piece of jewelry, mixing them with fireworks to get blown up, shooting them into space, or made into a vinyl record – are not allowed since they go against the Church’s faith and teachings. If done for these reasons, the person may be denied a Christian funeral.
The Church also states that one’s ashes should be laid to rest in a sacred place, including a cemetery, a church, or an area set aside for such a purpose. This means that dividing the ashes among family members or scattering them whether on land, air, at sea, or in other ways, is also not permitted. Furthermore, the ashes should be placed in a “worthy vessel” and if possible, record with dignity one’s memory. For instance, using plaques or stones that bear the name of the deceased.
Catholic Beliefs on Death, Body, and Funeral Rites
So why is the Church so strict about funerals? Because of faith, traditions, practices, and the Catholic doctrine.
As Catholics, we are taught about two things: the day will come that we will be resurrected, both in body and soul, and that our bodies are sacred and an essential part of our identity. Despite popular notions, we are not souls trapped in our bodies and that our souls won’t leave our bodies when we die. Instead, we believe that the body and soul belong to each other.
So when we die, Jesus will not only raise our souls but our bodies as well. This is an essential part of our faith that it’s even included in the Apostle’s Creed, so as follows:
“I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.”
For us, our bodies are also a gift from God. So even in death, it is to be treated with respect. This is why the Church prefers burying and laying down one’s body to rest on sacred grounds. Additionally, burying the dead is considered a corporal work of mercy. It mirrors Jesus’ burial, expressing our hope to be resurrected like Him. So what about cremation? Does this mean that an individual can’t be resurrected since the body has turned into ashes?
Well, no. As mentioned in the Ad resurgendum cum Christo, the Church teaches us that God is so powerful that he can “reconstitute our body precisely from our immortal soul alone, which guarantees the continuity of our identity between the moment of death and the moment of resurrection.”
The Church also says that they don’t have any “doctrinal objections to this practice, since cremation of the deceased’s body does not affect his or her soul, nor does it prevent God, in his omnipotence, from raising the deceased body to new life. Thus, cremation, in and of itself, objectively negates neither the Christian doctrine of the soul’s immortality nor that of the resurrection of the body.”
With that said, it is not necessarily the act of cremation that the Church is opposed to but rather the modern views about the afterlife and treatment of dead bodies. Because today, more people wish to make their departed ones into mementos instead of treating them as temples that God made in His image and likeness.
Why are Funeral Rites Important for Catholics?
Now, you’re probably wondering why Catholics follow certain funeral rites and practices. Well, it is through the death of each Christian that our faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is revealed. It is when we face death that we are reminded of God’s promise of eternal life.
So through our religion’s funeral rites, we can worship, praise, and thank God for his gift of life, which is now returned to Him. It is also through these rites that the Church steps on behalf of the deceased, advocating for him/her to God and pleading for his/her sins to be forgiven. Not to mention that one’s Christian funeral celebration can help bring hope and consolation to the family and friends that he/she has left behind.
Lastly, it is through Christian funeral rites that we affirm the union of churches in both heaven and earth through the communion of saints. With that, we accept that while the individual is no longer living, he/she is still connected to us.