Cremation, though permitted by the Church, often presents pastoral problems for the Church. For, as experience shows, many people treat cremated remains (aka, cremains) in ways that would be unthinkable in terms of the more complete body. Some of the most common practices involve scattering the ashes on the ground, pouring them in rivers or seas, or scattering them from planes. All of these sorts of practices are forbidden by the Church to Catholics. There are other problems we will talk about below.

But recently, one of the most absurd things I have ever heard in terms of cremated remains appeared in USA Today. Here are some excerpts of the article:

By Mari Darr Welch, for USA TODAY

Officers Thad Holmes and Clem Parnell have launched Holy Smoke LLC, a company that will, for a price, load cremated human ash into shotgun shells, and rifle and pistol cartridges.

It’s the perfect life celebration for someone who loves the outdoors or shooting sports, Parnell says….

“This isn’t a joke. It’s a job that we take very seriously,” he said. “This is a reverent business. We take the utmost care in what we do and show the greatest respect for the remains.” It has established myholysmoke.com to promote the service and traffic on it has been growing, Holmes says.

For $850, one pound of ash will be loaded into 250 shotgun shells. The ash is mixed in the cups that hold the shot, not the powder.The same amount of ash will fill the bullets of 100 standard caliber center-fire rifle rounds or 250 pistol rounds…

“Some people have been concerned that a small amount of ash will remain in the animal that is shot with the ammunition, Holmes said. “But it’s just carbon, and a small amount at that. You don’t have anything to worry about.” The animal should be killed quickly by the shot, to prevent any possibility of spreading the ashes in the animal’s blood, he says. The area around where the animal was struck should not be consumed…. The full article is here:

Sigh…Where to begin. It is interesting that the proprietors have to assure us this isn’t a joke. For indeed, it seems just that, a sick joke. And then things descend to the absurd when we are also instructed to thoroughly clean the meat of the animal killed by cremains laden bullet.

Some bad jokes come to mind, to wit: Joe really lived to hunt, now he’s dying to hunt. Joe would really be blown away by this…etc., add your own. But remember, as the proprietors assure us, “this is a reverent business” and thus all joking is inappropriate.

And so it is, but so is loading human ashes into shotgun shells and bullets and shooting away. Simply calling something a reverent business does not make it so.

Again the Church allows cremation so long as the reason for doing so is not contrary to the faith (e.g. denying the resurrection of the Body). But pastorally there are challenges presented to the Church in the way people routinely treat ashes.

Granted, most of the “scattering” practices are not as absurd and irreverent as shooting animals with them. Many in fact consider various scatterings as reverent. But the bottom line for the Church is that cremains, though in ash form, are still what remains of the body. And we should no more scatter them than we would scatter body parts about.

Reverent burial or placement in a mausoleum are the only proper destination for cremated remains. Thus, not only is scattering not considered appropriate, but so is the practice of some of retaining the ashes in their home.

Yet another problem encountered by cremation is the practice of delaying the burial indefinitely. I often find that the burial of cremated individuals is not scheduled the day of the the funeral. When I ask as to the specific date I often get a lot of vague answers. I am beginning to conclude that I will not schedule the funeral until the burial is also scheduled. For too often Uncle Joe is waiting in the closet to be buried.

To conclude, a new cremation regulation, dated March 21, 1997, was granted by the Holy See as an addition, or indult, to the Order of Christian Funerals.

The instructions indicate the cremated remains should be treated with the same respect we give to the body of deceased person. The remains are to be placed in a worthy vessel which then is carried and transported with the same respect and attention given to a casket carrying a body.

Their final disposition is equally important, say the instructions: “The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium [a cemetery vault designed for urns containing ashes of the dead]. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires.” The instructions also state that, if at all possible, the place of entombment should be marked with a plaque or stone memorializing the deceased.

67 Responses

  1. Bender says:

    The instructions indicate the cremated remains should be treated with the same respect we give to the body of deceased person.

    Before someone asks, “but shouldn’t we respect the wishes of the deceased, shouldn’t we do what dear old Dad wanted?”, I would add that treating the remains with the same respect as an intact body takes priority over the wishes of any deceased who had asked to be scattered, etc. It is not an act of respect, and it does no honor, to follow someone’s request to do an immoral act. In fact, if someone asks that you do an immoral act, like having their ashes loaded into shotgun shells, you cannot in all good conscience do it, but are instead obliged to say “no” and act against their wishes.

    • Brad says:

      I agree with you, Bender. I would go further to say, though, that by respecting the remains of a body, we are respecting the God who made the creature, body and soul. All love toward creatures should, in an ordered mind, bring us almost instantaneously to the Creator who made the creatures. May God grant us the grace to love Him more than ourselves.

      If we offend Him by acting as if we do not understand what He wants of us, even after so many millennia of His patient communication to us, we are the foolish Christian whom our Lord addressed in St. Matthew 5: “do not even the pagans do that?” Do not the pagans lay out their dead on rocks in the river? Do not they do worse in their ignorance: burn and scatter? But we who know the Father’s will in this and other matters and reject and disobey — how sad for us.

      How many witnesses in so great a cloud have died for the faith and the truths in that faith that we haughtily ignore, now. We burn and then scatter those truths! Lamb, have mercy on us.

  2. Howard says:

    No doubt this comes from watching too many gangster movies, but I’ve always thought that the custom of scattering ashes was one of the “best” things to happen for organized crime. Basically, you never know exactly WHOSE ashes you’re scattering. This may sound like a stretch, but scandals such as the uncremated bodies found in 2002 in Noble, GA are even more bizarre, and they illustrate the potential for abuse.

  3. Publius says:

    Isn’t this just part of the whole problem post 1970 where the Church tries to use honey rather than vinegar, admonishment, rather than threats? And with the result that traditional teaching is inverted.

    The new friendlier canon still clearly disapproves of cremation. Canon 1176 reads “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.[and]Although cremation is now permitted, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body. Catholic teaching continues to stress the preference for burial entombment of the body of the deceased.”

    So cremation is not a pious practice. In fact, it has always been considered impious. Cremation is not recommended! It has never been abosulutey forbidden, e.g. in plague. Yet one has a hard time imagining when cremation is not chosen for values contrary to Christian teaching- since as a sacramental incarnate religion, Catholic teaching must always be awake to the material world and also be in line with Tradition.

    Yet, today bishops are cremated and dioceses operate crematoriums. In some parishes, 90% of burials, especially in the West, are cremations.

    • I din’t know about the 90% number. Here in DC the vast majority of burials in our parishes are traditional burials.

    • HV Observer says:

      I can tell you one big motivating factor for choosing cremation over regular burial — the obscene cost of the latter. The coffins, the enbalming, the funeral director’s fee — it’s out of this world (figuratively speaking, of course). Frankly, I think that it’s good that the Church is giving us a reasonable option in this situation. An urn in a columbarium, at the same time shutting the door on scattering — that works for me.

      • Yes, cost is certainly one reason the Church allows cremation. But even cremation is more costly than I think it should be. I think the bottom line is that handlling the dead is an unpleasant matter and thus funeral directors have, over the years been able to command a high price for what they do. When I buried my parents, the costs were high. But I figured I wasn’t just paying for a casket etc., but for relief, knowing that my parents’ funeral details would be handled with dignity and that the details (coordinating cemetery, military, Church, obit in paper, death certificates etc) would be professionally handled. SO, I get your drift, and agree, funeral are too expensive, but there are a lot of services included.

        • Cynthia BC says:

          I think there’s a lot to be said for planning ahead.

          I was fortunate that my mother had, years before her final illness, purchased a columbarium plot (? is plot the right word?). Knowing how and where our mother was to be buried gave my sister and I that much less to deal with when Mom passed away.

          Several days before my mother’s death, I called around to local funeral homes about cremation services. Just for a cremation and urn – no other services – there was quite the variation in price. The facility closest to my home and generally the “go-to” place for my parish quoted me a price of over $2500, while other places were half that. When my mother did pass away, I was glad that my sister and I had already decided on a funeral home to take care of the remains…I don’t think we really would have been up for “shopping around.”

  4. Connor says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    This subject has worried me because a recent discussion with my father (non-Catholic) and brother and I has revealed that he (my father) wishes to be cremated and scattered. Since clearly this is opposed to church teaching – and assuming he continues to insist this happen regardless of my conversations, should I just not be present when the event occurs? Or would I face any penalty by disregarding his wishes and having a proper burial instead? I hope this won’t be an event anytime soon to give me time to continue the discussion, but in the case that it does, I want to be sure to know what’s best in this situation.

    God Bless!
    Connor

  5. Brian says:

    Msgr. Pope,
    Thank you for such an interesting post.

    ” And we should not more scatter them than we would scatter body parts about.”

    I suppose the relics of Saints are considered “entombed” beneath altars, but wouldn’t their body parts be considered as “scattered” in a sense?

    • Yes, the whole relics matter pushes the limits and there have clearly been abuses of the practices over the centuries. THe main difference in the relics question is that the body of the saint (usually a very tiny fragment of bone, is being religiously honored in a way consonant with ancient practice. That said, there have been abuses and the Church must carefully regulate the practice.

  6. Ellen says:

    My father is going to be cremated and his ashes will be placed in a mausoleum in our parish cemetery. I have no idea what I want done with my body. Burial and cremation both are distasteful to me, and I am seriously considering donating my body to a medical school.

    • BHG says:

      In that event, when the medical school is done, in all likelihood, your remains will be cremated.

    • Nick says:

      Ellen,
      I am a first year medical student who recently finished the anatomic dissection course. Accordingly, I just wanted to make you aware that all the remains of individual bodies are kept separate and after all is said and done they are cremated and returned to the families of the deceased. If you decided to donate your body, your remains would still be cremated.

      P.S. We medical students are extremely grateful to those who donate their bodies for the purposes of our education! God bless!

    • Bender says:

      My aunt donated her body to a medical school.

      Several years later, my cousin told me how adversely she had been affected by that because they came and took the body right away, so that there could not be a viewing and there was no body present for the funeral Mass.

      In short, my cousin said, she never had a chance to say goodbye to her mother, leaving an empty hole in her heart ever since.

      • Yes, I guess there are important things to consider when donating a body for science prior to burial.

      • Been There says:

        FYI if anyone is interested: it is possible to find a funeral director who works closely with a given medical school and who knows how to properly handle the body for a funeral before the body is sent to the school. This also holds true for cremation – a body can be at the church for the funeral before the cremation takes place.

        Of course, the deciding factor in both cases is usually the extra expense involved.

  7. Al says:

    Publius says: one has a hard time imagining when cremation is not chosen for values contrary to Christian teaching

    Well, let me help your imagination.

    My mother will be gone someday (soon, sadly) and has donated
    her body to the local medical school. From experience (with my father)
    I expect that at some point I will get a call asking where I want the
    ashes sent after they burn whatever remains of her body.

    Fortunately for me, my father’s ashes are already under a stone
    at Arlington national cemetery due to a similar
    disposition of his body. Fortunate; since it gives
    me a place for her that doesn’t involve direct cooperation with
    the blood sucking Catholic funeral home / cemetery industry.
    She has specifically requested no funeral mass, but that
    really is beside the point; the Catechism specifically speaks
    approvingly of donating the body for medical research.

    That industry benefits directly from current Catholic teaching.
    I’d have more respect for that teaching if it didn’t so conveniently fit
    hand in glove with a crony “business”. How convenient for
    them that they so conveniently facilitate “christian teaching”.

  8. Cristiano says:

    I am not sure but I wonder if it is possible and considered reverent to bury the ashes in consecrated ground without using any for of container? This would be closer to the way whole bodies were once buried.

    • Not sure exactly. I rather doubt that even civil officials would be happy about doing this, at least here in the USA. That said, the usual practice is for the remains to be placed, at least in a box and to be interred. Simply pouring them into a hole in the ground does not seem was the norms envision since it is too different from what we do with bodies.

  9. Joe Hopwood says:

    I was really surprised to read this. It is my understanding that the purpose of burial was to prevent disease especially when the person has died from a disease. At least you really hear a lot of that where disasters kill many folks and they have mass burials.

    Also burial at sea has long been a tradition and I just don’t see it as being disrespectful or a sin to scatter ashes at sea.

    I could certainly see that how remains are treated could be rated according to respect but just not really sure it rises to the level of a sin.

    Don’t we have enought sins without trying to force the final physical dispostion? Assuming our fate is sealed at the moment of our death exactly what happens to the body afterwards is not going to change anything.

    • Well I don’t recall using the word sin. However, simply dimissing what happens to the body afterward is not a biblical attitude. You are speaking more like a gnostic dualist. The body, even after death is not a mere shell, or a cage from which the person flies away. Rather it was and remains an integral aspect of the person. Hence, what happens afterward, as you say, is not of no account.

      As for burial at sea, it is permitted when other options are not easily available. However, while not have church norms in front of me, if they even exist in writing, I would say that we generally would not merely cast the body overboard as fish food. Rather it is carefully wrapped and often wieghted down. I think ashes can be buried at sea. However, it is my understanding that they are not to poured out, rather, they are to be placed in a sealed container that will sink.

      As for “having enough sins” that sound like a general attitudinal isee with you Joe, and I would be careful of entertaining it too quickly.

  10. Mary W says:

    There is a company called Lifegem that uses cremated remains to create a diamond- as a lasting tribute to the uniqueness of your loved one..

    there is also a trend to divide the ashes among family members so everyone has a little bit of the deceased. I have heard of a case where a little girl (about 10 years old) was bringing a mini urn of her mother’s ashes to school with her everyday in her back pack.

    It strikes me as a way of not giving back to God what came from him in the first place.

    Father, what about miscarraiges that have been disposed of as medical waste? Years ago I miscarried a baby and was never offered the opportuntiy to bury that child. The baby stopped growing at about 10 weeks and they did a D&C when I miscarried, so I guess they (the docotor and hospital) thought it would be easier. My doctor did baptise the baby but it probably was too late. So 30 years later I still wonder what became of my baby and my heart still aches that I failed to provide that little life the dignity of a final resting place. My consolation is that I trust that God will one day ressurect that little body and we will meet again in heaven.

    • I think these days, there are more options for families. I have been with families where there was a miscarriage and the hospital, (not a Catholic one) asked the family what they wanted to do. The family chose to have the reamains cremated and then they were interred in a local Catholic cemetary that has a location for such remains. No head stone etc, but the sealed remains were buried.

  11. Jeff Galloway says:

    Perhaps you could explain why the Church has its position on cremation. It seems somewhat arbritary to allow cremation in principle but to put conditions on disposal of the remains.

    • Well I don’t know Jeff, it seems like common sense to me. For example, don’t you think there ought to be a rule that human ashes should not be flushed down toilets? Is the sewer treatment plant a good place to send them. Hence, while permitting cremation it doesn’t seem so strange that there should be some limits. While smoem may debate the reverence of scattering ashes, there are obviously some limits to observe. Further there is a biblical image of reverence for the dead that affects our view, in addition to the sacredness of the body. THe human person is not just a soul that flies away after death. Rather we are body and soul and thus the body of the dead has always been treated with some sort of reverence, even upon death. It is no mere container or shell, it is an integral aspect of the person.

  12. Scotty Ellis says:

    Once the remains are buried, they are oxidized and decay – albeit, slowly. The body is reduced to its material elements and components; it is ingested by numerous carrion creatures, incorporated into the bodies of maggots and worms. Eventually, over a time frame much longer than most people think about when considering burial, that body will be scattered by nature, becoming parts of other bodies, becoming soil carried by wind and water across the face of the earth. In the end, it will be scattered.

    Forbidding cremation is one Catholic prejudice that, as a Catholic, I have never been able to embrace. The body will be scattered either way: why should cremation and scattering be discouraged? After all, there is something immediate about cremation, and indeed the process is a process of letting go. Instead of insisting that our loved one’s remains “stay put” for our own sake, memorialized (not for themselves, but for us!), cremation can be an act of catharsis and reconciliation with the death. It is an act of releasing the loved one, rather than insisting we keep the corpse nearby for sentimental purposes. As for the host of other ways that bodies may be disposed of (such as transformation into diamonds or, as the article suggests, shotgun shells, or perhaps, as is now legal in some states, direct liquidification of the body to return to the eco-system), each of these as rituals may have their own merits or demerits. However, the disposal of remains has always been of far more ritualistic importance, as a way to allow the community to move on and cope with the loss of one of its members, and I believe that these methods should be judged on this criteria rather than an arbitrary preference for slow rather than rapid decay.

    • Forbidding cremation is not a Catholic practice as you describe it. And as for your other reamrks you show yourself far too sociological and scientific. Faith is the more critical dimension here and something Catholic worth embracing.

      • Scotty Ellis says:

        //Forbidding cremation is not a Catholic practice as you describe it.//

        You are, of course, correct – I am guilty of hyperbole on this point. Nevertheless, scattering the remains is still forbidden, and of course cremation would be ultimately discouraged, so I do not believe it has much to do with my argument.

        //And as for your other reamrks you show yourself far too sociological and scientific. Faith is the more critical dimension here and something Catholic worth embracing.//

        I am fine with faith – but even faith is not unreasonable or arbitrary. Things that are touted as “matters of faith” in one era of Catholic history have been seen to disappear in others. All that notwithstanding, however, the doctrine which discourages cremation and forbids scattering should (theoretically) have some level of coherence and consistency even on its own terms, and since there is no difference in the end result, timewise, between scattering cremated remains and burying in a cemetery it seems to be a capricious doctrine. The only defense I’ve ever heard regarding the stance is that cremation and scattering somehow denies the truth of the resurrection, which is quite a specious argument since the two things have no discernible relationship.

    • Daniel says:

      Nicely said. I also don’t understand how putting “natural” remains into a sealed box inside a concrete bunker shows respect.

      • The sealed box shows respect, though not a required respect, but isolating the remains from being worm food. The average person considers this respectful even if you do not. The concrete bunker, as you rudely term it, (It is called a liner actually) is required by civil authorities since it keeps the ground above from sinking and becoming very unlevel and thus dangerous.

        • Scotty Ellis says:

          This “respect” of a sealed box is objectively an illusion, if for no other reason than that it only postpones, rather than prevents, the eventual decay of the body. Of course, I am perfectly fine with burial, although it is a practice that requires numerous measures to protect public health. I am simply saying that, as a ritual, burial and cremation may perform the same role and their end results are ultimately indistinguishable. I thus see no grounds to accept the forbidding of scattering except insofar as certain Catholic authorities tell me that it is a matter of faith – and to use the Galileo case as an example, it is not necessarily the case that simply because one is told by a Catholic authority that something or another is a matter of faith that that claim is true – or, indeed, that it is a matter of faith at all.

          I am really not attempting to be hostile to the concept of faith as submission to something one doesn’t understand (I believe in the Trinity, after all!), only that there are historical precedents which indicate that not everything that is touted as a matter of faith really is a matter of faith – or, that there is equal danger in thoughtless credulity as there is in stubborn doubt.

          • Again, Scotty, wake up man…the Church permits cremation. The whole premise of your intensity is based on something that isn’t even forbidden. THere are good reasons for the Church to frown on scattering ashes and not just smiling on everyone’s persoanl wishes. The burial of human remains is a significant and serious matter that is, (whether you like it or not) affected by custom, theology, history and so forth. Your insistence in this matter shows once again your proclivity, seen time and time again on this blog to argumentative. At a certain point the broken record analogy comes up, to wit: “Oh there goes Scotty again….” I frankly don’t take your objections that seriously anymore since to object seems more an emanation of your personality than an actually interesting counterpoint. I just know that if I say the sky is blue, you’ll find something to object to so I tune you out.

            • Scotty Ellis says:

              I would appreciate you not marginalizing me just because I often disagree with you (after all, I try not to marginalize you just because you disagree with me!).

              I agree that “the burial of human remains is a significant and serious matter that is…affected by custom, theology, history, and so forth.” That is precisely the point of my argument! On what real grounds can the Church forbid scattering and discourage cremation? I just would like a reasonable explanation that escapes my critique, rather than the ad hominem “you’re being too scientific!” How is that going to help me understand?

              I have gathered from this and past comments about me that you take me as an insincere troublemaker. Even if that were the case, I would hope you would still have the courtesy to try to help me understand. But the truth is that my doubts are quite sincere, as are my attempts to work them out! So, then, would you please address my real concerns about what you are saying? Would you explain to me how cremation combined with scattering, or being loaded into shotgun shells, etc., is fundamentally immoral (or, at the very least, objectively inferior) to the ritual of burial? I have explained my reasons for believing that they cannot be (i.e., burial does not, objectively or scientifically, prevent the same thing from happening that happens when one scatters the ashes, and furthermore since dealing with remains is part of a communal catharsis it may be important to undertake rituals, such as shooting the loved one’s remains in shotgun shells since he was an avid hunter and wanted it that way, other than burial or cremation with interment). What am I missing?

              • Daniel says:

                Msgr.,
                You know me as another whimsical and pedantic contrarian, but in all fairness there really isn’t any theology provided in your response to Scotty’s assertion. I can understand it as a custom, but what is the theology which would contradict the scattering of ashes? Does this contrast with our Ash Wednesday custom of reminding ourselves that “unto dust we shall return”?
                By the way, my comment above about a “bunker” was not at all intended to be rude–merely descriptive–and perhaps an anecdote might help describe the context of my question: When my great aunt died (she was from Ireland) her husband (also from Ireland) bought a burial plot in our parish cemetary and said to the pastor, “Now this is good for 50 years, right?”. The astonished pastor said “No! This is for perpetual care…forever”. My great uncle’s experience growing up in Ireland had been that after 50 years the bones would be dug up and reburied and the grave re-used. Your comment about what an “average person” considers respectful doesn’t take into account that there are people in other countries and cultures who do things differently but consider themselves “average people”.

                • Just follow the Church rules Daniel and let the Church deal with local differences. I tire of all your endless “yes…but” statements all you ever do is object. Broken records get anoying after awhile. Just follow the rules. Of all people Daniel I would think you would be upset with blowing up human ashes in shot-gun shells. After all, it is so “violent” Didn’t you object and object and object in a recent post how terrible it was to affirm “violence” in young boys? Sed contra…sed contra…sed contra…..

                  • JER says:

                    Msgr, I understand your frustration with the continuing “ends justify the means” reasoning in this thread. To wit, we’re all simply worm food anyway, and so, why not just scatter cremains?

                    Of course, the only “theological” basis or “matter of faith” comes from the Church’s teaching resulting from the Incarnation that the body (flesh) is God’s temple, holy and sacred. Death does not change that sacred status of the flesh. In fact, death is the violent separation of the body and soul and is not what God intended. Hence, Christ’s Death and Resurrection.

                    Scattering of cremains seems to me (just my personal opinion, not Church teaching) to emphasize unrest and carbon molecules rather than peaceful repose and sacredness. A dehumanization, if you will.

                    Further, why are there saints whose bodies remain incorruptible? And aren’t we all called to be saints? How does this square with the arguments proposed?

                    In addition, the Blessed Sacrament, if desecrated and unable to be consumed, is properly buried. Christ isn’t pulverized, burned, and thrown to the wind.

                    My reply may not help these two gentlemen at all and I certainly did not intend to generate more arguing! No need to keep playing the broken record. I simply must say that their perspectives cause me sorrow and seem to present a non-cohesive understanding of the Faith.

                    Perhaps a more simplistic line of reasoning would be, why then is there outrage over US soldiers urinating on deceased Iranians? Or horror at Jeffrey Dahmer keeping body parts in his refrigerator? Ah, it’s all the same end, slow or fast, n’est ce pas? And the logical conclusion is: any means to that end are okay, now please show me how the Faith plays any part?

                    Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

                    God bless you.

    • Bender says:

      the disposal of remains has always been of far more ritualistic importance

      Yes, there is use of funeral pyres in pagan rituals. Perhaps that is part of the reason for the Church frowning upon it.

      • Bender says:

        The body is reduced to its material elements and components; it is ingested by numerous carrion creatures, incorporated into the bodies of maggots and worms.

        HAMLET: Worms are the emperor of all diets. We fatten up all creatures to feed ourselves, and we fatten ourselves for the worms to eat when we’re dead. A fat king and a skinny beggar are just two dishes at the same meal. . . .
        CLAUDIUS: Oh no, oh no!
        HAMLET: A man can fish with the worm that ate a king, and then eat the fish he catches with that worm.
        CLAUDIUS: What do you mean by that?
        HAMLET: Nothing much, just to demonstrate that a king can move through the bowels of a beggar.

        • Magnificent! This will merit some future blog post I am sure.

        • Scotty Ellis says:

          HAMLET: How long will a man lie i’ the earth, ere he rot?
          CLOWN: I’ faith, if he be not rotten before he die – as we have many pocky corses now-a-days, that will scarce hold the laying in – he will last you some eight year or nine year: a tanner will last you nine year.
          HAMLET: Why he more than another?
          CLOWN: Why, sir, his hide is so tanned with his trade, that he will keep out water a great while; and your water is a sore decayer of your whoreson dead body.

  13. Joan M says:

    Where I live (in Trinidad & Tobago), it seems that many of the cemeteries are nearly full, which is probably why there are a lot of cremations. But, I only know of 2 Catholic parishes that have any place for cremains. The problem with what they have is that it is not either a mausoleum or a columbarium. It is, rather, something like a dry well, into which the ashes are emptied. My gut feeling tells me that this is wrong, but I do not have any documentation that spells that out.

    If Msgr. Pope can tell me where I can find such documentation, I would be extremely grateful.

    • Well I suppose you’d have to consult your local diocese for specifics. But I rather doubt that the practice of intermingling ashes is approved. I do not suppose an individual grave is necessary for every body. But if the ashes are buried in a common grave, I would think the ashes would be in seperate containers.

  14. Richard Martin says:

    This is a fascinating post.

    I run a website in the UK that advices people what to do with there cremated remains (this is not a plug honest!) and although I am a non believer I try really hard to give those of faith the correct advice. I have a position from the Church of England which is slightly different – I have copied at the bottom of the post, if you are interested.

    However I have a few questions that you may be help me with.

    Reverent – is this from the point of view of the deceased or the person or persons in charge of the funeral? Does it have a specific definition within the church? Do last wishes have any standing, if reverence is defined by that person?

    The term immoral is used – Isn’t this little harsh if the concept of reverence is subjective? Are we Anglicans immoral if they scatter ashes?

    The advice for Connor was not to attend the scattering of his father’s ashes, is this because it would infer that he condones the act or is morally corrupted by it? Are there not other ecclesiastical precedents that would lean towards honouring his father?

    On the point Al makes that I don’t think Christian teaching promote an unethical side of the funeral profession, just an unfortunate coincidence sadly. And people have written me worrying because of the cost of it all.

    In the main posting you seem not to like people having the ashes at home for a protracted period. I couldn’t see anything in the canon that specified or even indicated time span – unless that wasn’t the whole thing? People of faith lean heavily on their church after bereavement surely if you are not obliged under doctrine to require there burial at a certain point wouldn’t it help their grief to give them until a point they felt comfortable?

    Any pointer you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

    Lastly in the extract from the gun cartridge manufacture – they state it is mainly carbon, it isn’t it is mainly calcium. Carbon makes up about five.

    Here is the CoE stance

    “So far as the Church of England is concerned, the matter is governed by Canon B 38.4(b) which provides as follows-

    The ashes of a cremated body should be reverently disposed of by a minister in a churchyard or other burial ground in … or on an area of land designated by the bishop for the purpose … or at sea.

    The ordinary position therefore is that ashes are to be buried. They may only be scattered if the bishop has designated land for the purpose of the disposal of cremated remains on that land.”

    We are not in a position to say what land has been so designated. Individual diocesan registries may be able to assist with such information.”

  15. Clinton Romero says:

    Msgr Pope,

    Can you explain why the Catholic Church, while not endorsing cremation, allows it? The early Church would have been aghast at the notion of cremation, which was done by the pagans to the Martyrs of the Church. At one time every home had an incinerator to dispose of their garbage. The Catholic faithful, whose bodies are temples of God, should not be treated as garbage, but interred in the ground (or in a mausoleum) waiting for the reunion of their bodies and souls.

  16. Al says:

    Msgr:

    I think you may be on shaky ground characterizing what the “average person” considers
    “respectful”. Persons younger than fifty-ish might wonder why turning a body into a wax museum
    piece by pumping chemicals into it, displaying it, then sealing it so completely that its
    minerals cannot enrich the soil, is more respectful than burning it and spreading it on the
    earth. Obviously the Church has bigger apologetical problems to grapple with
    such as gay marriage; however if you want to convert people who think the Church’s
    position is nonsense on this particular issue, it is probably worth a much more
    encyclopedic post than you set out to write.

    • I have been a priest 24 yeras and I think I have a pretty good grip on what the average family burying a loved one wants. Your comment is argumentative since the Church does not forbid cremation and the tone of your comment pretty much discloses the extreme from which you speak. What is extreme, or as you say “nonsense” about the church allowing cremation but asking that the remains be buried or placed in a columbarium? Extreme? What IS nonsense is loading them into shotgun shells and blowing them all around God’s green acre. You need to get hold of yourself and decide what actually is extreme and nonsensical and what is not. Oh I think I have a better grip on what average people think than you, by a long shot (pun intended).

      And since you have wished to introduce age into the discussion, maybe I should tell you to grow up?

  17. Doug says:

    ‘treating cremated remains with due respect’

    Gen 3: “… till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou [art], and unto dust shalt thou return.” So ‘scattering’ is at least allowed by scripture.

    OTOH, although funeral customs should be the family’s business, observers’ feelings should be considered:
    1 Cor 10: “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all [men] in all [things], not seeking mine own profit, but the [profit] of many, that they may be saved.”

  18. Nick says:

    Resurrection of the Dead: http://newadvent.org/fathers/0206.htm

    A good apology for the catholic resurrection, in case anyone is interested.

  19. JCD, OFS says:

    Dear Msgr,

    Like many others, I have heard weird stories about what people do with the ashe remains of their loved ones. I witnessed, not as an participant, a family of Hindos release ashes into the local river of one of their loved ones. I knew river runs directly into a wood and paper mill about a mile down river from where they dispersed the ashes. The only product that the paper mill produces is toilet paper. I’m not sure if the family knew this. MY wife and I will go for the traditional buiral. Amen.

  20. Al says:

    I think I see a theme here. As they say in jurisprudence “hard cases make bad law”.
    Since the Msgr. led with an obviously disrespectful example (the shotgun shells)
    of the disposition of ashes,
    he continues to go back to it when commenters try to widen the subject to indicate
    that this Canon can be interpreted too narrowly, and as regards
    the disposition of ashes, is probably written too narrowly at present.

    I emphasize that I am NOT using Ed Peters as a sock puppet here, but I believe
    he has written in these comboxes in the past that he has an expectation that
    this Canon is likely to change (he was implying liberalization if I’m correct)
    in the future as regards cremation
    (to anticipate an objection; no, I do not
    conflate Ed Peters with the Magesterium). In my opinion, one can
    hold this opinion without
    being accused of advocating that ashes be loaded into shotgun shells.

  21. B Frame says:

    I hope you can help me. This is both a ‘cost’ question and a ‘practice’ question. I am a convert so I do not have a lot of experience with Catholic funerals. Is it acceptable for a husband and wife, or a family in general, to share a columbarium or mausoleum space?
    Thank you for your help.
    Beth

  22. marshall h says:

    RE ends vs means – scattering cremains just speeds up the natural process of our bodies merging with all the rest of created matter. In fact, our own bodies contain particles/chemicals/atoms.. that once were part of other people’s bodies, no matter how those bodies were “disposed of”. ALL the elements in the universe except Hydrogen and Helium were created in “star deaths”. We will all die some day, so why does it matter that anyone’s death is hurried along by disease, accident or even murder or suicide? My point is that the “end” doesn’t matter. Our entire solar system will be dispersed throughout the universe at some point in the very distant future. That would suggest that absolutely nothing material which we might try to “leave behind” as our own little “creation” will remain intact.
    Time and space comprise the material world we live in. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are in the material world AND He is outside time and space as well. He exists outside of time and space, forever and everywhere. Our bodies are resurrected outside time and space in eternity. Our bodies “begin, grow and are demolished” through time and space. After death, our physical bodies are “remixed” with the rest of the material world.
    Therefore, the ONLY thing that really matters, that will truly survive eternally, is the attitude with which we act, the intent that motivates us, the love we impart to the world we live in, the experiences and actions of our lives, and our individual soul and its condition upon arrival in purgatory as determined by its “end state” at the moment of death.
    With all that in mind, it would seem (to me at least) that it doesn’t “matter” WHERE or WHEN in time and space, each particle of our body resides. Since, in eternity, all material particles are everywhere and “everywhen”, our resurrected body will the same whether we are buried embalmed in a casket or scattered or “however..”. When all is said and one, only the love and reverence with which we “dispose” of a loved one’s body will have a lasting effect. That said, perhaps some methods of disposal (i.e. killing with cremains) might make it harder to do with love and reverence.

    • Marshall: Your comment is almost pure gnostic dualism.

      • marshall h says:

        Dear Msgr Pope, I am trying to learn the true Catholic faith as a newly minted Catholic of 2+ years, from non-practicing Episcopalian. I appreciate very much your taking the time to read my comment. I will research what you told me and will try to discern my misunderstanding of the Faith through further learning. I know I’m neither as obedient (to the correct teachings) or trusting (in what I don’t yet understand) as I should be.
        The reason this issue is important now is my mother is dying of Alzheimer’s, is Episcopalian, and her wishes are to be cremated and scattered at sea or in the mountains she loved. In earlier comments to your article, I read that perhaps I should go along with her wishes but not be in attendance for the scattering. That would make me sad.
        I like reading your posts and the wide range of comments they get. The ability to have an exchange like this with you is truly amazing. Thank you for your wise insights.

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