Witnessed by simple men and women, the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth confirmed the hope deep in the human heart that we will not be extinguished after death, that there is an eternal future for both our body and our soul.
Jesus’ unique human claim about the resurrection of the body is the truth that underlies all of the Church’s teachings on cremation. Because Christ has shown us this human destiny in Him, it is fitting that the Church requires that the deceased body be treated with prayerful reverence and great dignity in recognition of its glorious future.
The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Washington exist for this purpose: to be a prayerful resting place memorializing the existence of deceased men, women and children who now await the resurrection of the body in Christ.
Cremation and Catholics Today
Many Catholics have questions about the Church’s teachings on the growing practice of cremation. This is understandable since before 1963, the Church insisted that Catholics follow only the manner of Christ’s burial by either entombing or burying the body. Even today, the Church acknowledges that “cremation does not hold the same value” as this traditional way of allowing the body to go gently back into the earth (Order of Christian Funerals, Cremation Appendix, p. 14).
The revised Code of Canon Law of 1983 helps Catholics understand that the 1963 lifting of the prohibition forbidding Catholics to cremate their deceased loved one’s remains was never intended as an endorsement: “The Church earnestly recommends 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" (Canon 1176). The Church now allows for cremation of the body, providing that family members making that decision are not doing so because they fear the body is lost forever and has no future together in Christ with the immortal soul.
Treatment of Cremated Remains of the Body
Cremation of the body quickly reduces the body to about four to ten pounds of bone fragments. The Church requires that these remains of the body be placed in a respectful vessel and treated in the exact same way that a family would treat a body in a casket.
Since the human body has an eternal destiny in any form, the Church requires that cremated remains of a body be buried or entombed immediately after the Funeral in the same timely manner as a body. Cremated remains of a loved one are not to be scattered, kept at home or divided into other vessels among family members, just as it is clear that these practices would desecrate a body in a casket. The Church allows for burial at sea, providing that the cremated remains of the body are buried in a heavy container and not scattered.
All of these teachings on the treatment of cremated remains of the body correspond with the Christian’s foundational belief in eternal life—both body and soul—in Jesus Christ among the Communion of Saints.
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