For centuries, cremation was forbidden by the Catholic Church. Those who were cremated were said to be unable to rise on the Day of Christ. But in 1963, that ban was lifted. Indeed, the practice was condoned, as reported in the New York Times, if it was not done for reasons at odds with Christian doctrine. Sorry, no Viking funeral pyres.
The new guidelines issued by the Vatican are entitled “Instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes.” The guidelines say that when cremation is chosen because of sanitary, economic or social considerations, it cannot violate the wishes of the deceased faithful.
The Church does not raise any doctrinal objections to the practice of cremation because the deceased person’s body does not affect his or her soul. In addition, it does not prevent God from raising the deceased body to new life. This “negates neither the Christian doctrine of the soul’s immortality nor that of the resurrection of the body.”
The costs of a funeral have indeed risen, as reported at Alabama.com, in 1960 the cost of a U.S. funeral was only $708. However, as of 2014, funeral costs can top $8,000. Most people don’t think about dying so they don’t plan for it and when the time comes, there usually isn’t $7,000 in the checking account to pay for a funeral.
With so many families hit hard by the current economic woes, cremation looks to many more people to be a viable option for the end of life. As reported by BBC, the Vatican places the number of Catholics at 1.2 billion people. With 40 percent of these living in the economically devastated countries of Latin America, cremation isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity.
So, on the cusp of All Souls Day on November 2nd, the Vatican has released its new guidelines. While continuing to condone the practice, the Church has issued guidelines for what happens after.
First, it is preferable to be buried, when there is a cremation. Those remains must be interred at a cemetery or another sacred site. Secondly, the ashes should not be scattered. There are some exceptions to this but if possible, it is not to be done. Thirdly, ashes must not be kept in a home, used in jewelry or other items.
“The cadaver of a deceased person is not the private property of the family, but the deceased is the son of God, part of the body of Christ, of the people of God,” Cardinal Müller said. The deceased loved one should be in a place “accessible to everyone, where they can be venerated,” says Rev. Roberto Salsa, a parish priest in Italy.
What do you think of the Vatican’s new rules on cremation? Are they right or are they interfering in personal, family matters? Let us know what you think!
By Stephen Ford