Inez Szczupak holds an urn filled with the ashes of her son Martin, who died of a drug overdose, outside her home in the Staten Island borough of New York on Aug. 19, 2015.Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-VATICAN-CREMATION, originally transmitted on Oct. 25, 2016.

Vatican to Catholics: Cremation can be OK, but don't scatter ashes!

Inez Szczupak holds an urn filled with the ashes of her son Martin, who died of a drug overdose, outside her home in the Staten Island borough of New York on August 19, 2015.Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-VATICAN-CREMATION, originally transmitted on Oct. 25, 2016.

Inez Szczupak holds an urn filled with the ashes of her son Martin, who died of a drug overdose, outside her home in the Staten Island borough of New York on Aug. 19, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-VATICAN-CREMATION, originally transmitted on Oct. 25, 2016.


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Catholics can be cremated under certain conditions, the Vatican has said, but loved ones should not scatter the ashes at sea or on land or into the wind, nor should they keep them in mementos or jewelry.

Instead, say new guidelines released Tuesday (Oct. 25), the remains should be stored "in a sacred place" that "prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten" and "prevents any unfitting or superstitious practices."

The guidelines, issued by the Vatican body responsible for doctrine, came in response not only to the growing popularity of cremation in countries such as the U.S. but also the increasingly common practice of disposing of "cremains" at a spot beloved by the deceased person -- or just keeping them on the mantel.

The Catholic Church had long forbidden cremation, seeing it as a rejection of the belief in the resurrection of the body and as failing to give due reverence to the corpse. In 1963, the Vatican allowed for the practice under certain conditions.

The new document reaffirms that exemption, noting that cremation does not affect the soul nor does it impede God's power to resurrect any body.

But the instructions stressed the church’s preference for traditional burials in response to the rising cremation rate and "new ideas contrary to the faith" that have "become widespread."

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, then German bishop of the Regensburg, looks on during a religious conference at the Vatican March 11, 2010. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Tony Gentile *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-VATICAN-CREMATION, originally transmitted on Oct. 25, 2016.

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, then German bishop of the Regensburg, looks on during a religious conference at the Vatican March 11, 2010. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Tony Gentile *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-VATICAN-CREMATION, originally transmitted on Oct. 25, 2016.


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the new guidelines were necessary because there had been a “relentless increase in the choice of cremation” in many countries.

“It can reasonably be expected in the near future cremation will be considered the normal practice,” Mueller said at a news conference.

The Vatican guidelines, titled Ad Resurgendum cum Christo (or "to rise with Christ"), stress that cremations must "avoid every form of scandal or the appearance of religious indifferentism."

The church, the guidelines say, cannot "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."

A person who chooses cremation explicitly as a denial of the belief in the resurrection must be denied a church funeral, the Vatican said.

Even in the case of an approved cremation, the guidelines continued, the ashes must “not be divided among various family members."

And in order to avoid “the very appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism," it is not permitted to scatter the ashes “in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects.”

Cremation rates have been spiking in the U.S., among Catholics as well as others, in part because it is difficult to find cemetery space near populated areas.

Also, people often retire to states far from their families but prefer to have their funeral in their home parish when they die. But flying a body back can be prohibitively expensive.

Catholic cemeteries have increasingly been offering columbariums -- after the Latin word for pigeon or dove, because they resemble a dovecote -- to store urns with ashes in a holy spot that loved ones can visit.

The new instructions, which Pope Francis approved last March, were published just ahead of All Souls Day, Nov. 2, when believers honor and pray for the dead in a special way.

(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)

Comments

  1. Why would anyone give up the chance to be a spooky skeleton??

  2. “…prevents any unfitting or superstitious practices.”

    Doesn’t that describe the church itself? What is the difference between rotting in a grave versus cremation? What is the expression used at most funerals? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

  3. Who writes this Vatican stuff? So you cannot scatter the ashes, not because God couldn’t find them, but because that might give the appearance that you believe in “pantheism, naturalism, or nihilism.” Huh? And how to “prevent” the faithful from being forgotten? I am already forgotten and I haven’t even died yet. I think the ashes should be scattered. That way there is no possibility that the remains will be desecrated. What does the prohibition against remains in jewelry say about the Church’s centuries old practice of relics? I think they have a lot to learn about what death is. And about what life is.

  4. Well, such an argument as presented here would dismay my deceased elder brother, a lifelong Roman Catholic, who had his ashes scattered by his children at his much beloved Oregon coast. Personally, as his cremation was not intended to advance any doctrine or practice inconsistent with his Catholic faith, and since I’m quite confident God can reassemble a corporeal resurrection body at His own discretion, I have no fears for the fate of my departed brother, despite the judgement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is mere hairsplitting.

  5. Does the RCC provide free installation and storage?

  6. Bury me with a tree sapling or in a flower garden or something. At least I can still be useful after I’m dead. Sorry to tread on feelings, but I never understood cemeteries. Build a playground or school instead.

  7. Yet another reason that catholicism is a joke. Centuries old practices based upon ancient beliefs must be adhered to even with irrefutable evidence and a modern and legitimate need to abolish them.

  8. An article like this reminds me of how fortunate I am that I had an epiphany after my parents passed and I realized I was adhering to the Catholic faith for their benefit not mine. I am now quite comfortable in my atheism, not agnosticism. When a loved one passed at 85 from cancer which was destroying his body and bones, we deposited his cremains in a favorite natural spot which is every bit as beautiful, even more perhaps, as a Catholic cemetery. Our thoughts had nothing to do with, “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.” It was simply that his time on earth was done, and we placed his remains where he asked them to be placed, and when we go there, we think of him. It’s not that difficult a concept – though I understand why the Church has an interest in trying to control it. I do agree that “It can reasonably be expected in the near future cremation will be considered the normal practice.” So at least we agree on that.

  9. I plan on cremation, ashes scattered in the beautiful Black Hills, and a marker in Bell Park Cemetery. Survivors do need a place to go that is of their loved one. I don’t want my ashes kept and putting them in jewelry to wear seems weird to me. Actually if all options were available, I’d want my ashes launched into space.

  10. Great point about the relics. (I’m pretty sure most of them are fake.)

  11. Way too many people worship at altars they have created after their own image.

  12. I read some years ago that a church in France numbers among its relics a feather from the Archangel Gabriel …

  13. My father of blessed memory had mentioned he wished to be spread in a coastal island he loved, but I suggested a military burial, and he agreed. I buried him to taps. The Corps does not forget its own. A worthy burial.

    I think it’s a bit rude to scatter ashes where someone else may encounter them. And I liked the idea of a grave site to visit, which I have done. RIP, Jim.

  14. As a practicing Catholic who has participated in several Catholic funerals of cremated loved ones, I suspect this document is not primarily aimed at the customs of the American church. It is vital to recognize that the Vatican speaks to the world, and corrects errors of which we may know nothing. There are slight differences among dioceses but in general we have complied with the document for a generation. (I read it.)

    The essence is a permanent respect and reverence for the remains due to a Catholic dogma that each individual will be reborn in the next world, eternity. Nothing spectacular or vulgar, or nihilistic should be done to dishonor the remains. I know of cremains which lovingly resided in an honored place in the home for years, until a Catholic Columbarium was completed or retirement to a permanent location occurred. People are allowed to use common sense in practicing the faith. If, in doubt, speak to a priest.

    I recognize some areas of future reflection and discussion in the common European custom in which the remains of the saints were disbursed to many locations. There is also the issue of burial at sea, which has existed since biblical times.

    If you stick to the basics, and love, you are OK. It is an order from the Boss.

  15. It is recommended that ashes be placed in a columbarium in a church. Such a practice provides income to the church. The average small church can have and maintain a columbarium much easier than a one hundred and more acres of cemetery grounds. If ashes are spread anywhere, the church has no income..
    As to cremation it occurs two ways, the body embalmed and buried is cremated slowly to rot. The body that is immediately cremated is now ash and dust. Believe it or not–but after death we have a new body that is no way like the old-So let us choose to rot or to be burned–it is of no resurrection matter
    .

  16. I could definitely go for a new body or vastly improved body. We should be continually resurrecting.

  17. I buried my husband’s and my son’s cremated ashes in our family plot. They were placed in the ground still in the thick plastic bag I received them. It was such an emotional time that it has bothered me ever since. Should the ashes have been removed from the bag so that the ashes could return to the earth? Is it too late to change this? Any opinion would be greatly appreciated.

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