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Prelates issue statements on cremation, note that burial is preferred

Catholic World News - November 24, 2010

“While interment of the body remains the preference of the Church, after the manner of the burial of the Lord Jesus, the use of cremation is allowed,” Cardinal Justin Rigali wrote recently as he promulgated norms for cremation in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. “If a body is to be cremated, it is always preferable that cremation take place after the Funeral Liturgy,” the norms state, and “the cremated remains are to be buried in a cemetery or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium.”

“It is not permitted to scatter cremated remains,” the norms add, and “the permanent storage of cremated remains in a private home, funeral home or any other place is prohibited.”

Likewise, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe said in a recent statement that “the Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.”

He continued:

However, if the option of cremation is chosen, the obligation to entomb the remains in a consecrated place remains. This is to be done as soon after the Mass of Christian Burial as possible. Especially to be condemned are the practices of scattering the ashes, enclosing them in jewelry, dividing them among relatives as keepsakes, or doing other bizarre things with them. Such practices do not give honor to the body and, indirectly, are an affront to our belief in the resurrection of the dead. There are those who say they wish to keep the ashes at home so that they “may feel close” to their loved ones. This shows a lack of faith in the communion of saints, by which we are spiritually united to the departed, in a way far more marvelous than keeping their remains on a shelf in our house.

Archbishop Sheehan also implored the faithful to hold funeral Masses for the deceased rather than “memorial services”:

The primary purpose of a Catholic Funeral is to plead the mercy of God upon the soul of the departed person. It is an infallible teaching of the Church that Purgatory does exist, and that the souls there can be helped with our prayers and it is the common teaching of the Church that most of the faithful who depart this life after the age of reason will have some time of temporal punishment for their sins in Purgatory. The Mass is, of course, the most powerful prayer we can offer God, and therefore we, the living, have an obligation in charity to offer the Mass for the departed … To fail to provide for the Funeral Mass, substituting some sort of “memorial service”, or “celebration of life” gathering, or not providing for any funeral service at all, is gravely wrong.

“Let us not be misled by the atmosphere of paganism around us, which rejects the existence of the soul, the sacredness of the body, the mercy of the Redemption, and eternal life with God in heaven,” he concluded. “Rather, let us render the debt of love we owe the dead in frequent prayer for their eternal rest, and let our funeral celebrations show to the entire world that we indeed believe ‘in the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting,’ won for us by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

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