CHRIST OUR SAVIOR
Roman Catholic Parish
MANCHESTER, VERMONT

 
 

September 1 , 2019

Dear All,

I know that I promised something else for this week, but I can't get my head around it and I have had several queries about the topic of cremation, so, here we go on that!

For a believing Christian, the body is not just a prison for the spirit or a 'playground' of infinite delights; the body is the place in which the believer meets God who created him and who sanctified him in every Communion in the Body of Christ. Thus, the body after death is not just an accumulation of decaying organic matter; it is all that remains of a Believer whose hope was not of this world but of the world to come - the Resurrection of the dead. It remains a place of meeting God.

For this reason, the Church has always taught that the human body, at every stage, is to be treated with respect, even reverence, and never to be used as a tool by anyone but is possessor - think slavery, prostitution, certain kinds of surrogacy.

For this reason, again, the bodies of those who have died have always been treated with the respect and reverence that is their due.

Cremation, in the western world, has been a necessary expedient in times of plague mass tragedy or as a post-mortem punishment, but these were exceptions to the custom of whole-body burial.

In the last quarter century, however, the Catholic Church has allowed the faithful to request cremation, why?

The simplest and truest answer is a lack of cemetery space. This is why cremation was always accepted as an option in the land-poor countries of the Far East. It has come home to us in the West only lately. But it would be wrong to think that the Church has abandoned the preference for whole-body burial or that just any old customs involving the cremated remains of a Christian are acceptable.

Customary practice has now made cremation a fully equal choice for the burial of a Christian as long as the motives are purely pragmatic, not philosophical or religious: e.g. a challenge to God to find scattered ashes at the Last Day or to express one's disbelief in the reality of the resurrection.

But cremation is the cremation of the body of a believer. It is expected that the same reverence and respect be shown to the cremated remains as are afforded to a full body; placement in Church for the funeral and burial in blessed or consecrated ground with appropriate prayers and ceremonies.

In some places, there is a custom of keeping some of the ashes in lockets or on the mantel. Since this is not what one would do in other circumstances, neither is it permitted with cremains (yes, that's the word I have been avoiding).

Still less is the scattering of ashes in various places an acceptable way of treating the cremains. The body - and, thus, the cremains - of a believer await the resurrection. The do not enjoy a 'sentimental journey' to the eighteenth hole!

We'll do more on this next time.

Really and truly, but not finally, yours,

tm

 

     



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