The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued new guidelines for cremation for Catholics. Cremation has been permitted in the Catholic Church since 1963, but many Catholics don’t know there are also many rules surrounding the choice.
Since 1963, Catholics have been allowed to choose cremation over burial as a means of laying a loved one to rest. Cremation is a popular choice since it is less expensive and more manageable than a full burial.
However, some Catholics have not been dealing properly with their loved ones remains. Common practices include scattering ashes, parting ashes out to friends and relatives, and keeping the ashes in a common area, such as a living room.
These practices promote heretical ideas and can be dangerous from a faith perspective. This is why the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued updated guidelines.
According to the new guidelines, burial is still preferred, but cremation is an option. When a loved one has been cremated, their ashes must be kept intact, the same as one would treat a body. The ashes may not be separated or scattered. Instead, they should remain in a proper vessel that is interred in a proper place, such as a cemetery or church. Only the bishop can authorize an exception to this storage requirement in extraordinary circumstances.
The problem, the Congregation says, are new age ideas which have taken hold in modern times. People have come to see scattering of their ashes as allowing a “fusion” of them with nature, or that death is a form of liberation from the body. These ideas flirt with new age religion and are not Catholic. Ashes cannot be scattered because it gives the appearance of “pantheism, naturalism, or nihilism.”
Finally, the document stresses that Catholics who choose cremation for reasons contrary to the faith, (e.g., to have their ashes scattered) must be denied a Christian funeral.