The Roman Catholic position on cremation is different now than it was through most of church history. Roman Catholics believe in the resurrection of the physical body after death, and that the body is a temple for the Holy Spirit. Because cremation destroys the physical body, reducing it to ashes, Roman Catholic doctrine forbade it for many years. In more recent years, the Vatican has removed the ban on cremation and adjusted the funeral ritual to include cremation as an option for Catholics.
- Skill level:
Understand the Catholic funeral ritual. The first rite is a vigil prayer service that occurs soon after the death, often occurring at a hospital or a funeral home. The second rite is the funeral Mass that occurs at the Catholic church. The third rite is the rite of committal, which occurs at the interment location. Ideally, these three rites occur in this order, but in special circumstances, a bishop can change the order.
Consult with your local Catholic priest, who can consult with the bishop responsible for your diocese. The bishop has the responsibility to judge the situation and determine whether to allow the cremated remains at the Mass.
Find out if the bishop will allow the cremated remains to be present in the Catholic church during the funeral Mass. If the bishop will allow the cremated remains to be a part of the funeral Mass, the order of rites need not change.
Use a "worthy vessel" (an urn) to hold the remains. Place the vessel in the location where the casket would sit during the Mass. Omit any specific references to the "body" and "baptism" during the Mass because the body no longer exists. While sprinkling the vessel with holy water is still appropriate, draping the vessel with the "pall" to symbolise baptism is no longer appropriate.
Seek to change the order of the rites if the bishop will not allow the cremated remains to be present in the Catholic church. Start the with the vigil prayer service immediately after the death, including the final commendation that occurs at the end of the Catholic funeral Mass. The cremation would occur next, followed by the rite of committal at the place of interment. The funeral Mass would occur last without the remains present.
Use the same care and respect for the cremated remains that you would use with the decedent's body. Bury the remains in a grave or entomb them in a mausoleum. Mark the burial or entombment location with a stone or plaque. Scattering ashes or keeping them in someone's home are not acceptable options according to the Roman Catholic Church.
Tips and warnings
- The Roman Catholic Church officially gave local bishops the power to allow funeral Mass with cremated remains in 1997.
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