Friday, October 2, 2015

The Church Prefers Burial of the Body to Cremation!

Having officiated hundreds of funerals in my twenty years of priestly ministry I was under the impression that, since the Church allowed cremation, she had no preference. NOT SO! "The Church prefers burial [of the body to cremation] which expresses more clearly the faith in the resurrection and the dignity of the body." Code of Canon Law Annotated Wilson and Lafleur Limitee: Montreal, 1993, footnote to Canon 1176.

My sudden enlightenment in this regard was caused by the death of my mother last month and my strongly felt objection to some close family members who were pushing for cremation which I spontaneously and adamantly opposed with a clear inner conviction of propriety. Here are the reasons that came to me during this time of anguish.

Why should I subject the mortal remains of my mother, the matter I hold most dear in the world after the Most Blessed Sacrament (also because of the holiness of her life and death, assisted as she was throughout with great faith and prayer, frequent confession, daily Mass and communion whenever possible and dressed in the brown scapular of the third order of Mount Carmel of which she was a devoted member), to unknown manipulation by some unknown incinerator laborer and then trusting that all was done with dignity? How do you burn a human body with dignity? How do you collect the cremains in a dignified manner? What assurance do I have in the end that the remains were all collected and that what was collected was entirely only her remains? If she were a saint each particle of the remains is a relic. If that is the case, and that is our Christian hope (that she make it to heaven even if she might have to make a stop in Purgatory), then I would prefer to have everything, untampered and clearly accounted for and deposited together in one memorialized and blessed place.

I am glad now to find that the Church prefers what I have naturally chosen and so strongly preferred. Sometimes you have to live with faith through things to realize the great importance of our Catholic faith and traditions of old!

Here are the relevant documents. One from the Code of Canon Law, the other (1963 decree Piam et constantem of Blessed Pope Paul VI's Holy Office) that opened the door to this modern breech with the long-standing norm of burial of the body. We'll start with the latter.

SC HOLY OFFICE, Instruction Piam et constantem, on cremation, 8 May 1963: AAS 56 (1964) 822-

{3366} The reverent, unbroken practice of burying the bodies of the faithful departed is something the Church has always taken pains to encourage. It has surrounded the practice with rites suited to bring out more clearly the symbolic and religious significance of burial and has threatened with penalties those who might attack the sound practice. The Church has especially employed such sanctions in the face of hate-inspired assaults against Christian practices and traditions by those who, imbued with the animosity of their secret societies, sought to replace burial by cremation. This practice was meant to be a symbol of their antagonistic denial of Christian dogma, above all of the resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the soul.

Such an intent clearly was subjective, belonging to the mind of the proponents of cremation, not something objective, inherent in the meaning of cremation itself. Cremation does not affect the soul nor prevent God's omnipotence from restoring the body; neither, then, does it in itself include an objective denial of the dogmas mentioned.

The issue is not therefore an intrinsically evil act, opposed per se to the Christian religion. This has always been the thinking of the Church: in certain situations where it was or is clear that there is an upright motive for cremation, based on serious reasons, especially of public order, the Church ddid not and does not object to it.

There has been a change for the better in attitudes and in recent years more frequent and clearer situations impedeing the practice of burial have developed. Consequently, the Holy See is receiving repeated requests for a relaxation of church disciples relative to cremation. The procedure is clearly being advocated today, not out of hatred of the Church or Christian customs, but rather for reasons of health, economics, or other reasons involving private or public order.

It is the decision of the Church to accede to the requests received, out of concern primarily for the spiritual well-being of the faithful, but also out of its awareness of other pressures. The Church therefore establishes the following.

{3367} 1. All necessary measures must be taken to preserve the practice of reverently burying the faithful departed. Accordingly, through proper instruction and persuasion Ordinaries are to ensure that the faithful refrain from cremation and not discontinue the practice of burial except when forced to do so by necessity. For the Church has always maintained the practice of burial and consecrated it through liturgical rites.

{3368} 2. It has seemed the wiser course, however, to relax somewhat the prescriptions of canon law touching on cremation, for two reasons. One is so that difficulties arising from contemporary circumstances may not be unduly increased; the other, so that the need for dispensation from the pertinent laws may not arise too often. Accordingly, the stipulations of CIC can. 1203, par. 2 (on carrying out a person's will to be cremated) and of can. 1240, par. 1, no. 5 (on the denial of ecclesiastical burial to a person who has left such a directive) no longer have universal binding force, but only in those cases in which it is clear that the reason for choosing cremation was either a denial of Christian dogmas, the animosity of a secret society, or hatred of the Catholic religion and the Church.

{3369} 3. From this it follows that the sacraments or public prayers are not to be refused to those who have chosen cremation unless there is evidence that their choice was made on the basis of the anti-Christian motives just listed.

{3370} 4. The devout attitude of the faithful toward the ecclesiastical tradition must be kept from being harmed and the Church's adverse attitude toward cremation must be clearly evident. Therefore the rites of ecclesiastical burial and the ensuing suffrages may never be carried out at the place of cremation itself, not even simply to accompany the body as it is being brought there.

The cardinals in charge of safeguarding matters of faith and morals reviewed this Instruction in a plenary meeting on 8 May 1963. Pope Paul VI at an audience granted to the Cardinal Secretary of the Holy Office on 5 July 1963 has agreed to approve it.

Posted by Jeffrey Pinyan 3 OCTOBER 2008 at Documents on the Liturgy.

§1. Deceased members of the Christian faithful must be given ecclesiastical funerals according to the norm of law.

§2. Ecclesiastical funerals, by which the Church seeks spiritual support for the deceased, honors their bodies, and at the same time brings the solace of hope to the living, must be celebrated according to thenorm of the liturgical laws.

§3. The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contraryto Christian doctrine.
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