CDF on Cremation


A universal document for cremation up at the Vatican today. Interesting, but not surprisingly this comes from the CDF and not the liturgy office, CDWDS. Reason being, it contains important teaching (already mostly covered by the USCCB in their documentation) on honoring and remembering the remains of the deceased.

Section 3 lays out Church teaching on why burial of a body is preferred:

  • (B)urial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body.[CCC 2300]
  • The Church … commits to the earth, in hope, the seed of the body that will rise in glory.[I Cor 15:42-44, CCC 1683]
  • (T)he Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body,[St. Augustine, De cura pro mortuis gerenda, 3, 5]
  • (Burial) 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.[Gaudium et Spes 14]
  • (B)urial 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”.[St Augustine, op. cit.]
  • Tobias, the just, was praised for the merits he acquired in the sight of God for having buried the dead,[Tob 2:9, 12:12]
  • (T)he burial of dead (is) one of the corporal works of mercy.[CCC 2300]
  • (B)urial of the faithful departed in cemeteries or other sacred places encourages family members and the whole Christian community to pray for and remember the dead, while at the same time fostering the veneration of martyrs and saints.

None of this seems to be particularly new for American Catholics and ministers working with the earlier indult for cremation. I did notice the same caution about the connection of cremation to non-Christian influences. Something new I don’t recall from the USCCB legislation was the practice of funeral as something for “the purely private sphere,” a danger (if you will) for an increasing number of rituals which, more and more, are seen as part of the expression of a family or group of friends, ignoring the larger impact things like marriage or baptism–or funerals–have on the community at large, and not just the community of faith. How to circumvent this thinking, I’m not sure. For Americans, I suspect that the danger of association with other religions is not quite as to-the-point as our indulgence for the individual and the private.

Many Catholic parishes and cemeteries have a columbarium for the interring of ashes. The image at the top is from St Matthew Catholic Church in Winter Haven, Florida. Others I’ve seen are smaller, some inside a building. Interesting the etymology of the word, a derivation from Latin for dove, columba. I suppose these structures can resemble dovecotes.

Unless the bishop allows it, Catholics cannot keep cremated remains in their homes. Scattering ashes is a no-no. It seems that swims against some military traditions not unknown in the West. Likewise the use of cremated remains to fashion jewelry or other similar pieces is not “permitted.” How these practices can be monitored, I’m not sure. It would seem the list of positive practices will be the “motivation.” That, and how well they are presented by the local church’s ministers.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Order of Christian Funerals and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to CDF on Cremation

  1. Liam says:

    The naval tradition about burial at sea would not involve cremated remains because of a lack of a crematorium aboard ship…

    One traditional practice in old European cities that had limited space for cemeteries was the use of ossuaries – bodies that had completed the decay process after many years would be exhumed (freeing up space for new burials) and the bones placed in an ossuary. (Which families would visit at least annually to dust off/clean up bones of kinsmen.)

    But it should be remembered that mass unmarked graves were frequently resorted to in times of pestilence. For example, if you drive along certain lovely rural roads in the seeming wastes of the west of Ireland, you can see fields rising along the side of the road (maybe flecked with sheep or goats) with what look to be ripples of indentations if you pay close attention – the indentations are where mass burials from the Great Hunger (and its two successors) were made in the 1800s.

    We visit my mother’s grave with some regularity. Despite the fact that’s against national military cemetery regulations, we put small stones on her gravestone at each visit, a Jewish custom she learned from her Jewish friends of her childhood and loved dearly. When my father’s turn comes, visits will likely be less frequent, because of lack of family nearby, it is sad to say.

    And I know many people these days who might well wonder if anyone would much visit their graves after their death. I have an estranged eldest sister who was very much wigged out by our grandmother’s funeral (sister being 30 years old at the time, not a child) and I realize she’s not alone in that regard – she has never attended another funeral to my knowledge (she made a loud vow never to do so again, as it were, and her family will probably never know when she dies). My other sister had a difficult time at my mother’s wake being in the presence of her body.

    Meanwhile, church musician friends are wont to plan their own funerals….

    • Todd says:

      The military thing about burial at sea still comes up among veterans. It’s been suggested once or twice in the past year at my new parish.

  2. Brendan Kelleher svd says:

    I write from Japan, so numerous other factors, not adequately noted in the CDF Instruction come to mind. So let me begin by noting that cremation is the norm. And overall the document offers little that is new. One section of the Instruction, however, may prove to be particularly problematic:
    6. For the reasons given above, the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted. Only in grave and exceptional cases dependent on cultural conditions of a localized nature, may the Ordinary, in agreement with the Episcopal Conference or the Synod of Bishops of the Oriental Churches, concede permission for the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence. Nonetheless, the ashes may not be divided among various family members and due respect must be maintained regarding the circumstances of such a conservation.
    There are very few families in Japan where all the members are Catholic or even Christian. Consequently one encounters requests to inter the remains in more than one location, in the Catholic plot in the local cemetery, at a Buddhist temple where for many generations the family remains have been consigned – from around the 17th century every family had to be registered as belonging to the congregation attached to a Buddhist temple, or at other locations too numerous to list. The remains may occasionally be brought back to the home of the paterfamilias or after his passing to that of the eldest son, for the the observance of certain customs honouring those who have passed on – these customs tend to have their roots in Buddhism
    Sharing a little from my own experience. I spent some years, back in the early 1980’s, in parish work in the north of the main island (Honshu), where burial during the winter months is out of the question – think 20 – 30 cms of snow faling every night and minimum temp falling to – 15 degrees celcius. As a result the remains are kept at home until spring or even later. Once more the timing of the interment is determined as much by tradition and/or Buddhist custom, even though the deceased may have been a Catholic, a Christian.
    Also while up north, I faced a quandary when it came to the burial of my predecessor, who died in a hit and run accident. He had lived and worked in the town for almost 30 years, and was widely known and respected in the local community. So I wasn’t surprised when a request was made to divide the remains. After consultation with confreres, the Provincial Superior of the SVD in Japan, and the local ordinary the request was accepted. The actual “division” of the remains was made easier since the larynx (in Japanese it is popularly referred to as, literally translated, “the throat Buddha”) is often placed in a separate container, as they were in his case.
    His death had taken place during the onset of winter, and that became a further reason for a delay in his burial both in our SVD community plot and in the town where he had worked for so long. One further problem I faced was that one of the last tasks he had been engaged in was moving the Catholic burial plot. I became responsible for completing both the negotiations for the move, with the local authorities and the families whose graves would be moved, and the actual logistics of the move. The whole process took around eighteen month, and during the interim the remains were kept in a variety of locations.
    In the parish where I am now we recently built a columbarium. The contract for use stipulates that after 40 years, unless the family applies for an extension, the remains will be removed from their location in a locker like box and the ashes spread in an empty space below the floor of the building. How the new CDF Instruction will affect this arrangement, and other burial practices currently in place, will obviously now need to be considered, not just at the local level but also by the Bishops Conference. Once more the CDF seems to be demonstrating the narrowness of the horizon within which it works.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s