Ask a Priest – Ashes, Cremation and the Catholic Church?
Sep 07, 2012
I recently read that Catholic Church does not recommend the scattering of someone’s ashes, or keeping them at home. Is there a reason why the Church insists on the burial of ashes? And why doesn’t the Church allow the ashes of two people to be mingled?
Yes, there are good reasons for the burial of ashes. In a document published by the Vatican office in charge of the sacraments they explain it in the following way:
254. Christian piety has always regarded burial as the model for the faithful to follow since it clearly displays how death signifies the total destruction of the body. The practice eschews meanings that can be associated with mummification or embalming or even with cremation. Burial recalls the earth from which man comes (cf. Gen 2, 6) and to which he returns (cf. Gen 3, 19; Sir 17,1), and also recalls the burial of Christ, the grain which, fallen on the earth, brought forth fruit in plenty (cf. John 12, 24).
Cremation is also a contemporary phenomenon in virtue of the changed circumstances of life. In this regard, ecclesiastical discipline states: “Christian obsequies may be conceded to those who have chosen to have their bodies cremated, provided that such choice was not motivated by anything contrary to Christian doctrine”(369). In relation to such a decision, the faithful should be exhorted not to keep the ashes of the dead in their homes, but to bury them in the usual manner, until God shall raise up those who rest in the earth, and until the sea gives up its dead (cf. Aps 20, 13).
Mingling of the ashes is not allowed due to the respect for the remains of each deceases person. It relates to the Christian belief in the individual nature of each person and how they are each responsible before God for their lives and how each person will be resurrected. Throughout the history of the Church the mingling of remains, whether after cremation or in the normal form of burial has not been the normal practice.
This article provides a useful summary of what the Church thinks about cremation.
- Cremation and Corporal Burial – Guidelines on cremation published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
- Catholics in Italy told ashes of dead cannot be scattered – A news story from CNA about how the Italian bishops published guidelines forbidding the scattering of ashes.