Catholic World News

CDF issues instruction on cremation, affirms Church’s strong preference for burial

October 25, 2016

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has released Ad resurgendum cum Christo [To Rise with Christ], an instruction on the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation.

The instruction, approved by Pope Francis on March 18 and dated August 15, was made public on October 25. Its twofold purpose is to emphasize “the doctrinal and pastoral reasons for the preference of the burial of the remains of the faithful and to set out norms pertaining to the conservation of ashes in the case of cremation.”

Since the Church first permitted cremation in 1963, “the practice of cremation has notably increased in many countries, but simultaneously new ideas contrary to the Church’s faith have also become widespread,” the Congregation noted.

“Following the most ancient Christian tradition, the Church insistently recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places,” the Congregation stated. “In memory of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, the mystery that illumines the Christian meaning of death, burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body.”

The Congregation continued:

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. She cannot, therefore, 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 …

The burial 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.

Turning to cremation, the Congregation established:

  • “In circumstances when cremation is chosen because of sanitary, economic or social considerations, this choice must never violate the explicitly-stated or the reasonably inferable wishes of the deceased faithful.”
  • “The Church continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased. Nevertheless, cremation is not prohibited, unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.”
  • “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.”
  • “The conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted” except in “grave and exceptional cases dependent on cultural conditions of a localized nature” with permission of the bishop. “Nonetheless, the ashes may not be divided among various family members and due respect must be maintained regarding the circumstances of such a conservation.”
  • “In order that every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided, it is not permitted 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 law,” the Congregation concluded.

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  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Oct. 25, 2016 10:18 PM ET USA

    It is ridiculous that cemeteries charge the same to bury a casket as they do to bury a cardboard box of ashes. I realize that we also probably need to revise some of our laws regulating burials.

  • Posted by: jpeaceokc - Oct. 25, 2016 1:03 PM ET USA

    Unfortunately, in the United States, economic issues prevail when low income individuals are involved. We have the ashes of two people here at our Catholic Worker house, because the minimum cost for burial in a cemetery is more than $1,000. Neither we nor the families had that money. We barely had enough to cover the cremation cost. Catholic cemeteries need a "potters field" as they used to be called, for low income burials.

  • Posted by: R. Spanier (Catholic Canadian) - Oct. 25, 2016 12:03 PM ET USA

    "...the Church insistently recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried..." A poor fellow-Catholic friend with a terminal illness was recently quoted a price for a funeral with a burial plot: $10,000 and up. He said, "I can’t even afford to spend $10,000 on myself while I’m alive so how can I possibly be expected to set aside that much money for myself for when I’m gone."