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.