What Does the Church Say about Cremation?

By Schorn, Joel | U.S. Catholic, March 2004 | Go to article overview

What Does the Church Say about Cremation?


Schorn, Joel, U.S. Catholic


Margaret is in her late 80s and has decided it's time to plan her funeral. A lifelong Catholic, she's pleased to learn the church permits cremation, which she finds attractive because of Its simplicity anti, in her case, lower cost.

She is not alone in her choice. In the 1990s cremation was used in 20 percent of funerals in the United States. The number of cremations is rising every year, and in some states cremation surpasses the number of traditional burials. Catholics are tracking this trend.

But it was not always so. In the 1880s the Vatican condemned the "attempt to introduce the practice [of cremation] into Christian society" as "un-Christian and Masonic in motivation:' Masonic plots aside, the church lifted its prohibition on cremation in 1963, and the 1989 edition of the Order of Christian Funerals contained prayers for the committal of cremated remains. In 1996 the U.S. bishops requested and received permission from the Vatican to allow celebration of the funeral liturgy with cremated remains in place of the body.

When it comes to celebrating a Catholic funeral involving cremated remains, the church asks that those involved uphold Christian beliefs about death, especially the resurrection of the body and reverence for the body of the deceased. According to church law and teaching, "The church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching" (Code of Canon Law) and "does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body" (Catechism of the Catholic Church). …

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