Cremation

As a faithful Catholic, may I be cremated?

Yes. While the Church continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, it does not prohibit cremation unless cremation was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine. In memory of the mystery that illumines the Christian meaning of death, the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, burial of the body is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body.

When should cremation take place?

The church strongly prefers that cremation take place after the full funeral liturgy with the body. The presence of the body most clearly brings to mind the life and death of the person and better expresses the values that the Church affirms in its rites.

When cremation follows the funeral liturgy, embalming is usually necessary. When cremation is to follow soon after death, embalming is not necessary. Each state has its own regulations in this matter, but generally the rule is that a deceased human body that is not buried or cremated within 24 or 48 hours is to be embalmed or refrigerated.

Is it necessary to purchase a casket?

No, it is not necessary to purchase a casket for cremation. The only thing required is a simple container in which the body can be transported and placed in the cremation chamber. If you choose to have the body present for Mass, with cremation to follow, renting a casket is an option. Many funeral directors offer caskets for rent, as well as the special cremation or shell caskets which you may purchase.

What is the proper container for cremated remains?

Appropriate, worthy containers (not necessarily expensive) such as a classic urn are proper for the cremated remains. At the present time the U.S. Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy has only determined what is not a proper container. Although jewelry, dishes, statuary and space capsules are examples of contemporary containers now being offered, they are unacceptable in Catholic funeral practices. It is also unacceptable to have cremated remains made into jewelry, dishes and the like.

How are cremated remains transported?

Transportation of cremated remains is a matter of personal choice. Individuals personally carrying a deceased person’s ashes will often have the added responsibility of packing and transporting the urn. Using the principle of respect for the body, you may wrap the container of cremated remains with the possibility of sending it as accompanying baggage or taking it along as carry-on luggage. Ask the airline office or the state’s Department of Public Health for specific information about your region of travel before preparing the cremated remains for transport by air. Where no legal regulations exist regarding transport of cremated remains, most crematoriums ship cremated remains in a standard shipping container by U.S. Mail or other common carriers.

Must cremated remains be buried or entombed?

Yes. Respectful final disposition of cremated remains involves interment or entombment. Burial options include a family grave in a cemetery marked with a traditional memorial stone or an urn garden, a special section in a cemetery with small pre-dug graves for urns.

What is a columbarium?

A common practice is the entombment of the cremated remains in a columbarium. It is an arrangement of niches, either in a mausoleum, a room or wall into which an urn or other worthy vessel is placed for permanent memorial.

May I scatter the cremated remains?

No. 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. (Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix II #417) Burial at sea of cremated remains differ from scattering. An appropriate and worthy container, heavy enough to be sent to its final resting place, may be dropped into the sea. (See Order of Christian Funerals, #406.4) Please consult your local government for environmental regulations.

May anything be added to cremated remains such as the cremated remains of other persons, pets, or other objects?

The principle of respect for the cremated remains of a deceased Christian embraces the deeper belief in the uniqueness and dignity of each baptized person before God. The mingling of remains is not an accepted practice.

May cremated remains be divided among family members?

No. The cremated remains may not be divided among family members as this would also diminish the respect due to the uniqueness and dignity of each baptized person.

Who decides if I am cremated?

In most cases you make the decision to be cremated. However, your survivors may decide to have you cremated, generally due to special family circumstances, but rarely against your will. If you desire your body to be cremated, you can make those wishes known in your will and in documents designed to help plan and prepare your funeral.

Must I honor my parent’s or spouse’s wish to cremate them?

Out of respect for loved ones, you will want to do all you can to carry out the wishes of the deceased concerning funeral services, provided they are in keeping with Church practice. Yet, you must always keep in mind the therapeutic value to the family of celebrating the full funeral liturgy with the body present. This may significantly outweigh your reason for cremation before the funeral liturgy.

What funeral rites are celebrated when a person is cremated?

The Church strongly prefers that the cremation take place after the full funeral liturgy with the body. However, when this is not possible, all the usual rites which are celebrated with a body present may also be celebrated in the presence of the cremated remains. In an appendix to the Order of Christian Funerals, the United States bishops have included prayers to be used when the cremated remains of a loved one are present in the church. (Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix II #432 – 438)

The following rituals may be celebrated:

  • Prayers After Death
  • Gathering in the Presence of the Body
  • Vigil for the Deceased
  • Funeral Mass or Funeral Liturgy Outside Mass
  • Rite of Committal

During the liturgies, the cremated remains are treated with the same dignity and respect as the body.

What length of time is there between death, cremation, and the funeral Mass?

The answer to this question depends on various factors, just as is the case of the funerals with the body. Among the circumstances that affect the timing of the funeral are: the place of death, scheduling the cremation, commitments at the funeral home and the availability of the parish church.