As a Catholic, may I be cremated?
YES. In May, 1963, the Vatican's Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith) lifted the prohibition forbidding Catholics to choose cremation. This permission was incorporated into the revised Code of Canon Law of 1983 (Canon #1176), as a well as into the Order of Christian Funerals. It then became standard practice to celebrate the funeral liturgies with the body and then take the body to the crematorium. Most recently the bishops of the United States have authorized the celebration of a Catholic funeral liturgy with the cremated remains when the body is cremated before the funeral.
Do I need to ask permission to be cremated?
No, but it is a good idea to discuss your reasons with your pastor or other parish minister.
When should cremation take place?
The Church strongly prefers that cremation take place after the full funeral liturgy with the body. The presence of the body most clearly brings to mind the life and death of the person and better expresses the values that the Church affirms in its rites.
What is the proper container for cremated remains?
Appropriate, worthy containers (not necessarily expensive) such as a classic urn are proper for the cremated remains. At the present time the U.S. Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy had determined only what is not a proper container. Although jewelry, dishes, statuary and space capsules are examples of designer containers now being offered, they are unacceptable to Catholic funeral practices. It is also unacceptable to have cremated remains made into jewelry, dishes and the like.
Must cremated remains be buried/entombed?
YES. Respectful final disposition of cremated remains involves interment or entombment. Burial options include a family grave in a cemetery marked with a traditional memorial stone or an urn garden, a special section in a cemetery will small, pre-dug graves for urns.
What is a columbarium?
A common practice is the entombment of the cremated remains in a columbarium. It is an arrangement of niches, either in a mausoleum, a room or wall into which an urn or other worthy vessel is placed for permanent memorial.
May I scatter the ashes?
NO. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires. (Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix II #417) Burial at sea of cremated remains differs from scattering. An appropriate and worthy container, heavy enough to be sent to its final resting place, may be dropped into the sea. (See Order of Christian Funerals, #406.4) Please consult your local government for environmental regulations.
May anything be added to cremated remains such as cremated remains of other persons, pets, and other objects?
The principle of respect for the cremated remains of a deceased Christian embraces the deeper belief in the individuality of each baptized person before God. Throughout history, the mingling of remains has never been an acceptance practice, except in extraordinary circumstances.
Who decides if I am cremated?
In most cases you make the decision to be cremated. However, your survivors may decide to have you cremated, generally due to special circumstances, but rarely against will.
How do I make my wishes known?
If you desire that your body be cremated you can make those wishes known in your will and in documents designed to help plan and prepare your funeral.
Must I honor my parent's or spouse's wish to cremate them?
Out of respect for loved ones, you want to do all you can to carry out the wishes of the deceased concerning funeral services provided they are keeping with Church practice. Yet, you must always keep in mind the therapeutic value to the family celebrating the full funeral liturgy with the body present. This may significantly outweigh your reasons for cremation before funeral liturgy.
What funeral rites are celebrated when a person is cremated?
The Church strongly prefers that cremation take place after the full funeral liturgy with the body. However, when this is not possible, all the usual rites which are celebrated with a body present may also be celebrated in the presence of a cremated remains. In an appendix to the Order of Christian Funerals, the United States bishops have included prayers to be used when the cremated remains of a loved one are present in church. (Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix II#432-438)
Should I schedule a funeral Mass before or after cremation?
The Church strongly prefers cremation after the Funeral Mass. However, if it is possible for the body to be present at the Funeral Mass, an indult has been granted by the Holy See which provides for the celebration of the Mass with the cremated remains in church.
Do I need permission to have cremated remains in church (for the funeral liturgy)?
The indult granting the diocesan bishops of the United States authority to permit a funeral liturgy in the presence of cremated remains (in place of the body) requires two things. First, the diocesan bishop must authorize this practice for his diocese. Second, each individual case requires permission. Your pastor will need to seek permission for you.
What length of time is there between death, cremation and funeral Mass?
The answer to this question depends on the various factors, just as in the case of funerals with the body. The place of death, the location of the crematory, scheduling a time for cremation, the schedule at the parish church, and other circumstances impact the timing. Once all arrangements have been made, you should generally allow at least one day between death and the celebration of the funeral liturgy.
What happens at the funeral Mass with cremated remains?
A journey which began at baptism comes to a conclusion as we enter into eternal life. Significant attention should be given to the primary symbols of the Catholic funeral liturgy, as stated in the Order of Christian Funerals and in commentaries. The paschal candle and sprinkling with holy water are primary symbols of baptism and should be used during the funeral Mass. However, the pall is not used. Photos and other mementos may be used at the vigil, but are not appropriate for the Mass. During the Mass, the cremated remains should be treated with the same dignity and respect as the body. They are to be sealed in a worthy vessel. They may be carried in procession and/or placed in table where a coffin normally would be with the Easter candle nearby.
Rite of Committal
The body is always laid to rest with solemnity and dignity. So too, the Order of Christian Funerals provides for the interment of cremated remains. (Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix II #438)
Excerpts from Reflections on the Body, Cremation, and Catholic Funeral Rites ©1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc. (USCC);Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix II ©1997 USCC. Used with permission. All rights reserved.