Cremation may be a confusing issue for Catholics. The reforms of the Second Vatican Council touched all areas in the life of the Church, including funeral and burial rites. At one time, the Church prohibited cremation in most circumstances. Many Catholics may believe that the Church still forbids cremations, but this is no longer the case. The Church does, however, offer guidance to people considering cremation. It also has specific expectations for burial of cremated remains in a cemetery. While the Church still strongly recommends traditional full body burial, cremation is now an option to be chosen “for sufficient reason.” Studying the issue and understanding the teaching of the Church will help you make an informed decision.
When is cremation allowed?
While the Church still prefers full body burial or entombment, after the manner of Christ’s own burial, out of respect for the human body and belief in the Resurrection, cremation may be chosen in exceptional circumstances for “sufficient reason.” Here are some general considerations to keep in mind when facing the question of cremation:
- Cremation may be requested for hygienic, economic or other reasons of a public or private nature. Some examples would be: transfer of the remains to a distant place, possible avoidance of considerable expense, national tradition or custom, a severe psychological or pathological fear of burial in the ground or a tomb.
- The selection of cremation must have been the specific choice of the individual before death.
- Cremation, however, may also be requested by the family of the deceased for what also might be determined good and/or pastoral reasons that can be accommodated. (An obvious instance would be the case of a family’s desire to transfer the remains to a distant place.)
- According to current guidelines of the Archdiocese of Seattle, the priest, whose responsibility it is to perform the funeral, must determine that the reasons for choosing cremation are within those recognized by the Church.
- When cremation is seen as an acceptable alternative to the normal manner of Catholic burial, the various elements of the funeral rite should be conducted in the usual way and, normally, with the body present.
- The ordinary practice of Christian burial includes the Vigil Service, the celebration of the Funeral Mass at the Church, and the Rite of Committal at the cemetery.
- Although all the elements of the Funeral Rite have importance, priority should be given to the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy with the body of the deceased present.
- In March 1997 the Vatican granted the dioceses of the United States an indult – that is, an exception for pastoral reasons – to permit the cremated remains of the body to be present at the Funeral Mass. Guidelines in the Archdiocese of Seattle leave the decision to allow cremated remains at the Funeral Mass to the individual pastor.
Disposition of Cremated Remains
People do a lot of different things with cremated remains: some scatter the remains, some keep them at home, and some leave the remains at the crematorium or the funeral home. Some choose burial or inurnment in a cemetery.
In keeping with the sacred nature of the body, the Church asks that the cremated remains be treated in the same way as the full body. This includes burial of cremated remains in a cemetery. Scattering or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend are not the reverent disposition that the Church suggests.
The Catholic cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Seattle provide a variety of burial or inurnment options. We invite you to review the options available to you.