Relating to the Bodies of Our Deceased Loved Ones in a Manner That Honors Them as Persons
Mar 12, 2018
As most of us are aware, cremation has become more and more commonplace despite the Church’s stated preference for full burial. In addition, when cremation does occur, all too often the cremated remains are not reserved in a permanent, sacred place as Church law requires.
This is the background in relation to which the Instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, entitled Ad resurgendum cum Christo, has been issued. This document was approved by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in March, 2016. In this pastoral article, I will highlight pertinent points from this Instruction. In section 4, it is stated that the Church continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased. According to section 3, “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.” Nevertheless, cremation is not prohibited, “unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.” In section 5, it is stated that in circumstances when cremation is chosen…, this choice must never violate the explicitly-stated or the reasonably inferable wishes of the deceased faithful. The Church raises no doctrinal objections to this practice, since cremation of the deceased’s body does not affect his or her soul, nor does it prevent God…from raising up 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.
In section 5, it is stated that when for legitimate motives, cremation of the body has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery, or, in certain cases, in a church or an area, which has been set aside for this purpose, and so dedicated by the competent ecclesial authority. Section 5 goes on to state that the reservation of the ashes in a sacred place ensures that they (the faithful departed) are not excluded from the prayers and remembrance of their family or the Christian community. It prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten, or their remains from being shown a lack of respect, which eventuality is possible, most especially once the immediately subsequent generation has too passed away. Also, it prevents any unfitting or superstitious practices.
Based upon this reasoning, the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is notpermitted. In order that every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided, it is notpermitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed 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.
When the deceased notoriously has requested cremation and the scattering of their ashes for reasons contrary to the Christian faith, a Christian funeral must be denied to that person according to the norms of the (Church’s) law.
Working to end this article on a positive note, the attitude that we take toward our own bodies after we die and the manner in which we relate to the bodies of our deceased loved ones offers a powerful occasion to witness to the following truths of our Faith, namely that we believe in the Communion of Saints and in the Resurrection of the Body. May we always take to heart that we are to honor the Lord both in death as well as in life.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Nelson Beaver – Pastor