To Rise With Christ
Ad resugendum cum Christo
Christian Burial & Conservation of Ashes
Below is a précis of the instruction issued on 15 August 2016 by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of ashes in the case of cremation. It provides guidance to clergy and laity in light of recent trends.
The Sovereign Pontiff, Francis, on 2 March 2016, approved the instruction and ordered its publication.
- Cremation is not opposed per se to the Christian religion, and the sacraments and funeral rites should not be denied to those who have asked to be cremated, provided that this choice has not been made through a denial of Christian teachings. This discipline is incorporated into the Code of Canon Law.
- The practice of cremation has notably increased but at the same time new ideas contrary to the Church's faith have become widespread. This has prompted the publication of this new instruction to provide norms pertaining to the conservation of ashes in case of cremation.
- The resurrection of Jesus is the culminating truth of our faith. Because of Christ, death has a positive meaning. The Christian vision of death receives privileged expression in the liturgy of the Church. By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God gives incorruptible life to our body, transformed by the reunion with our soul.
- Following the most ancient Christian tradition, the Church insistently recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places. Burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection. As a mother, the Church offers to the Father, in Christ, the child of her grace and commits to the earth in hope the seed of the body that will rise in glory. (1 Cor 15: 42–44) By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection and intends to show the great dignity of the human body which forms part of their identity. The Church cannot condone attitudes or permit rites that consider death as the definitive annihilation of the person or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration.
- Burial in a cemetery or another sacred place adequately corresponds to the piety and respect owed to the bodies of the faithful departed, who through Baptism have become temples of the Holy Spirit and in which as vessels of the Spirit have carried out so many good works. Burial in a cemetery encourages family members and the Christian community to pray and to remember the dead while at the same time fostering the veneration of martyrs and saints. It also upholds the relationship between the living and the dead and is opposed to any tendency to minimize or relegate death to a purely private sphere.
- Cremation must never violate the explicitly stated wishes of the deceased person. The Church raises no objections to the practice since it does not affect the soul nor does it prevent God from raising up the deceased body to new life. The Church continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased. Nevertheless, cremation is not prohibited unless it is chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.
- After the celebration of the funeral rite, the Church accompanies the choice of cremation providing the relevant liturgical and pastoral directions.
- When cremation is chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery or in certain cases, a church or an area set aside for this purpose and so dedicated by church authority.
- The tombs of the faithful departed are places of prayer, remembrance, and reflection. The reservation of the ashes in a sacred place ensures that they are not excluded from the prayers and remembrance of their famiily or the Christian community. It prevents them from being forgotten or their remains from being disrespected, which can eventually happen once the immediate subsequent generation has also passed away.
- For these reasons, the conservation of ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted. The ashes may not be divided among family members.
- In order to avoid the appearance of pantheism, naturalism, or nihilism, it is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea, or in some other way. Nor may ashes be preserved in mementos, jewelry or other objects.
- When the deceased notoriously has requested cremation and teh scattering of their ashes for reasons contrary to the Christian faith, a Christian funeral must be denied that person according to the norms of the law. (Canons 1176, 876)
Published: 15 August 2016, Gerhard Cardinal Muller, Prefect
For answers to other questions on funerals, please see the page
Worship and Liturgy > Funerals