Mass for the Dead
Question from on 07-09-2007:
Recently I attended a funeral Mass where the cremated remains were not present in the Church but out in the parking lot in a regular car from the funeral home. When I made my funeral plans 10 years ago I was told the Catholic Church requires the body to be present during the Mass. Therefore, I would have to "rent" a casket so my body would be there before cremation; where is it after cremation? When did the Catholic Church approve cremation & what are the "rules"? A friend of mine's is still paying the funderal home "rent" for her dad's ashes, as she can't afford to bury him! Humbly in Christ Jesus+ Bridget A. Trail
Answer by Colin B. Donovan, STL on 07-30-2007:
The Church has allowed cremation in some countries in recent years, provided that no denial of the doctrine of the resurrection was intended. Burial has always been the normal Christian practice, as the catacombs illustrate. By burial we place the body in the ground, as a sign of our hope in the bodily resurrection. The body disintegrates, nonetheless, so it is a sign, not a necessity, for the resurrection. God will restore our bodies to us, not the exact same carbon, oxygen and other molecules we had when we died. That is not what the doctrine is saying. Those change constantly anyway.
After the Enlightnement of the 1790s it become fashionable to cremate as a repudiation of religious doctrines. Hence the Church forbid. However, cremation was never considered wrong, per se, only as a conformity to the opinions of the world. During times of plague, bodies need to be burned to prevent the spread of disease, for example.
Today, the Church permits cremation provided the reason is not to reject the resurrection of the dead. no false reason motivates it. In such a case, the ashes may be present or not present, and both possibilities are in the funeral ritual. However, the ashes must be buried, and in blessed ground, as befitting a Christian who partook of the Eucharist during life. Your friend is under obligation to do this, as soon as possible, by means of the rite which the Church provides.