Vatican releases instruction on burial, cremation
Professing belief in the resurrection of the dead and affirming that the human body is an essential part of a person’s identity, the Catholic Church insists that the bodies of the deceased be treated with respect and laid to rest in a consecrated place.
While the Catholic Church continues to prefer burial in the ground, it accepts cremation as an option, but forbids the scattering of ashes and the growing practice of keeping cremated remains at home, said Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“Caring for the bodies of the deceased, the church confirms its faith in the resurrection and separates itself from attitudes and rites that see in death the definitive obliteration of the person, a stage in the process of reincarnation or the fusion of one’s soul with the universe,” the cardinal told reporters Oct. 25.
In 1963, the congregation issued an instruction permitting cremation as long as it was not done as a sign of denial of the basic Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead. The permission was incorporated into the Code of Canon Law in 1983 and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches in 1990.
However, Cardinal Muller said, church law had not specified exactly what should be done with “cremains,” and several bishops’ conferences asked the congregation to provide guidance.
The result, approved by Pope Francis after consultation with other Vatican offices and with bishops’ conferences and the Eastern churches’ synods of bishops, is “Ad resurgendum cum Christo” (“To Rise with Christ”), an instruction “regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation.”
Presenting the instruction, Cardinal Muller said, “shortly, in many countries, cremation will be considered the ordinary way” to deal with the dead, including for Catholics.
Cremation, in and of itself, does not constitute a denial of belief in the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body, the instruction says. Nor does it “prevent God, in his omnipotence, from raising up the deceased body to new life.”
However, the Catholic Church wholeheartedly recommends continuing the “pious practice of burying the dead,” Cardinal Muller said. It is considered one of the corporal works of mercy and, mirroring the burial of Christ, it more clearly expresses hope in the resurrection when the person’s body and soul will be reunited.
In addition, he said, when a person is buried in the ground — and, at least to some extent — when the urn of the person’s ashes is placed in a columbarium or tomb, the final resting place is marked with the person’s name, the same name with which the person was baptized and by which the person is called by God.
“Belief in the resurrection of the flesh is fundamental,” he said. “A human cadaver is not trash” and an anonymous burial or scattering of ashes “is not compatible with the Christian faith. The name, the person, the concrete identity of the person” is important because God created each individual and calls each individual to himself.
Full text next edition of the Vatican document.