Just in time for Halloween, the Catholic Church issued new guidelines to believers who seek to have their remains cremated. The new guidelines say that incinerated human remains may not be scattered, divided, or kept at home, but instead must be stored in a sacred place approved by the Church. Released today by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the new document reiterates the Church’s preference for burial. The guidelines for conserving human ashes are set out in the document, a response to the growing numbers of Catholics who choose cremation. Traditional burial is expensive in many place, while incineration offers a more economical choice.
For most of its history, the Catholic Church only permitted burial. This was based on the argument that burial expressed the Christian hope in the resurrection at the end of time. However, in 1963, the Church allowed cremation as long as it did not suggest a denial of faith about the resurrection. Other religions, such as Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Freemasonry either prescribe or suggest cremations.
"It is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects," the instructions state. Cremated remains should be kept together in a sacred place, said the instructions. Also, cremains should not be distributed among survivors. The goal, said the instruction, the Church says ashes should be kept together in a place where the cremated dead will not be "excluded" from prayers and remembrances of other Christians.
“Halloween” is in other words, All Hallows Eve or the eve of All Saints Day. It is on this day and the subsequent day, All Souls Day, that Catholics pray for intercession on the part of the saints and pray for all the dead. Popular Mexican practice has been imported to the United States where it has come to be known as the “Day of the Dead,” which includes traditions and practices that are foreign to the Catholic faith.
"During the intervening years, the practice of cremation has notably increased in many countries, but simultaneously new ideas contrary to the Church’s faith have also become widespread," the Vatican document declared. In addition, the document said that death brings about the separation of body and soul, but that at the end of time and the general Resurrection, "God will give incorruptible life to our body" reunited with the soul.
"By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body, and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity," the instructions state. "She cannot, therefore, condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the 'prison' of the body."