Cremation and Catholics - What You Need To Know
THE COLUMBARIA AT THE BASILICA OF ST. PATRICK’S OLD CATHEDRAL
What is Cremation?
Cremation may be a confusing issue for Catholics. Over half a century ago, the church prohibited cremation but this is no longer the case. In this document, the Basilica provides answers to the most commonly asked questions about cremation.
It is generally understood that cremation is not the same as burial. Cremation merely speeds up the natural processes of the disintegration of mortal remains after death. Once the body has been cremated, ashes remain. These ashes are called cremains and considered mortal remains. It is for that very reason they must be reverently interred as soon as possible as a sign of our continued care and reverence for the deceased, and our trust and expectation that God in his mercy will raise the dead to new life, sharing in the glory of Christ’s resurrection.
Is Cremation an Approved Form of Christian Burial?
In 1963, the Catholic Church lifted its prohibition forbidding Catholics to choose cremation. From the earliest days of Christianity, cremation was seen as a pagan ritual perceived to be contrary to this and other Catholic teachings, and therefore prohibited by the Catholic Church.
Today, cremation is only prohibited if the person choosing cremation is doing so to deny Christian teachings, especially that of the resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the soul. Catholics believe that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and that all of God's creation is sacred. Just as the body should be treated with respect in life, so should it be treated in death.
As Catholics we believe that "in baptism the body was marked with the seal of the Trinity and became the temple of the Holy Spirit," and as such, "Christians respect and honor the bodies of the dead and the places they rest" (OCF 19). This changed fifty years ago when Pope Paul VI lifted the ban on cremation because the former reasons for objecting to it no longer applied. Today, there are actually positive economic, environmental and social benefits for choosing cremation.
When Should Cremation Take Place?
The church strongly prefers that cremation take place after the full Funeral Liturgy where the body is present. The Church's belief in the sacredness of life and the resurrection of the dead encourages us to celebrate the funeral liturgies with the body present while affirming the value of human life.
As Catholics, we celebrate our funeral liturgies, because they recall Christ's victory over death. With His victory, comes our promise of eternal life. If it is not possible for the body to be present at the Funeral Mass, permission has been granted by the Catholic Church, which provides for the celebration of the Funeral Mass with the cremated remains of the body present in church.
Since it is the 'earthly remains' and not the body of the deceased that is present, there are slight adaptations in the liturgy. In some diocese, local permission is needed for the cremated remains of the body to be present at Mass.
What Catholic rites are available for those choosing cremation?
The Order of Christian Funerals presents the Church's plan for the celebration of the death of one the faithful. These rites assume the presence of the body, but adaptations are available for those choosing cremation.
The Order of Christian Funerals consists of three parts:
1) Vigil and Related Rites
2) Funeral Liturgy
3) Rite of Committal
Vigil and Related Rites and Prayers
" gives the family and friends an opportunity to gather in the presence of the deceased and offer support and prayers to and for each other as well as the deceased, and recall their Christian life.
", frequently celebrated within Mass, but which may be celebrated outside of Mass, allows us to relive the Easter mystery and Christ's promise of eternal life.
Rite of Committal
" is our farewell to our beloved brother or sister in Christ. At this time, we turn over the care of our loved one to the cemetery as we await the resurrection of the dead along with the communion of saints.
How should cremains (cremated remains) of the body be handled?
Prior to cremation, arrangements should be made among the family of the deceased, the funeral director, and the Basilica concerning the disposition of the cremated remains of the body. Cremains should be treated with respect in the way they are handled, transported, cared for and in their final disposition.
Upon receipt of the cremains, they should immediately be buried or entombed. The scattering of the cremated remains of the body, or the keeping of them at home, or the dividing of them among various family members is not the reverent disposition the church requires. Our columbarium is the ideal location for the cremains.
"The Rite of Committal” is prayed as the cremains are laid to rest. Recognizing that the goal of our lives is eternal life with God, we prepare for that by prayer, reception of the sacraments and care for those around us. Preparation for death is an essential part of life for a Christian. In today's society, for some, choosing cremation is part of that preparation for death.
Thinking about eternity? Think about the hallowed grounds of America’s first cathedral, The Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. Now offering a premier place of eternal rest for cremated remains in Manhattan’s only Catholic cemetery.