The Catholic Church maintained a staunch ban against cremation until the middle of the 20th century. Until 1963, the only proper way to treat a deceased Catholic was to bury the corpse, preferably in a Catholic cemetery after a church funeral. Although cremation is permitted within the Catholic religion today, church authorities still strongly advocate burial.
Scattering Ashes is Forbidden
Cremation is allowed by the Catholic Church, but only if the remains are buried in the ground. Other divisions of Christianity allow the scattering of ashes after cremation, but this act is prohibited by Catholic Canon Law. The ashes of the deceased are to be interred, and the site of burial should have a gravestone or marker to honor the dead. Displaying the urn at home or showing the ashes publicly in any way is contrary to church doctrine.
Catholic Funeral Rites Performed
If a Catholic is cremated, Catholic funeral rites, which include the vigil, the funeral Mass and the Rite of Committal, will be performed. It is preferred that the funeral Mass or the funeral liturgy outside Mass be performed before the body is cremated. The Rite of Committal is celebrated at the burial site, never at church. After the church ceremony, the family traditionally gathers a few days later to bury the ashes, and it is at this time that the Rite of Committal is performed.
Ceremony to Bury Ashes
The proper ceremony for cremated remains should involve burying the ashes in a marked grave, mausoleum or columbarium, according to the Vatican. The church specifies that a marker or a grave stone must honor the deceased. If the ashes are present at the funeral, with the permission of the local ordinary they can receive funeral rites with a slight modification. The ashes are greeted at the funeral door and sprinkled with holy water, but they are not covered by a pall.
Many Catholics today are surprised to learn that cremation, while not encouraged by the Catholic Church, is condoned as long as the act is not in defiance of the church. As long as the family of the deceased buries the ashes in the ground, the dead is given a full funeral service, complete with a burial in consecrated ground.
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