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Organ donation and cremation

Apr 09, 2017

Dear Father,

I am considering organ donation and cremation when I pass. I believe both are acceptable now as a Catholic. My question is that since the parts of the body have been seperated why can’t the ashes be scattered?


Asked at 04:02 pm on April 09th 2017

Hi Dave, you’re being extremely generous to consider organ donation when you die, and you’re right, the Church has no objection to cremation. The Church’s original opposition to cremation was because those who proposed it around the time of the French Enlightenment, wanted to express through cremation their rejection of the Christian belief in the future resurrection of the body or even of any kind of life after death.

Fittingly, on the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, body and soul into heaven in August last year, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document on your very question, ‘Instruction Ad Resurgendum Cum Christo [On Rising with Christ]: regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation,’ which is easily available on the net. Here’s a quote from the Instruction that I think helps to explain why the Church doesn’t think that our cremated ashes should be scattered:

By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body, and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity. She cannot, therefore, condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the “prison” of the body.

Furthermore, burial in a cemetery or another sacred place adequately corresponds to the piety and respect owed to the bodies of the faithful departed who through Baptism have become temples of the Holy Spirit and in which “as instruments and vessels the Spirit has carried out so many good works”.

Having my ashes scattered means that there’s no place where those who remain behind me can come and pray for me, while burying them in a sacred place is continuous with the Christian tradition of showing our remains the deep respect our body deserves as a Temple of the Holy Spirit which one day will rise again. As an Irish journalist wrote, reflecting on the indignant response in some Irish media to the Vatican instruction:

The hostile reaction on the part of some, including many who are no longer even Catholics, to the Vatican’s instruction this week, is actually indicative of a wider culture clash, namely the clash between our current hyper-individualism and the requirements of belonging to a given community of belief, in this case the Catholic Church. For Christians, how we treat our dead fellow believers is never a purely private matter.

The Instruction’s official publication date was an indirect reminder of the Assumption, where Jesus invites his Mother to share in the grace of the resurrection of the body as a way of underlining all our hopes as Christians to once again be reunited with our bodies in the final resurrection. That’s an encouragement to us to think again of just how sacred our bodies are, and that how we dispose of our mortal remains in some way shares in the same divine respect God has for us, body and soul. Very best, Fr Brendan

Replied at 11:58 pm on April 19th 2017