Vatican: No More Scattering of Cremation Ashes
The Vatican published guidelines for Catholics who want to be cremated, saying their remains cannot be scattered, divvied up or kept at home but rather stored in a sacred, church-approved place.
The new instructions were released just in time for Halloween and “All Souls Day” on Nov. 2, when the faithful are supposed to pray for and remember the dead.
For most of its 2,000-year history, the Catholic Church only permitted burial, arguing that it best expressed the Christian hope in resurrection. But in 1963, the Vatican explicitly allowed cremation as long as it didn’t suggest a denial of faith about resurrection.
The new document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith repeats that burial remains preferred, with officials calling cremation a “brutal destruction” of the body. But it lays out guidelines for conserving ashes for the increasing numbers of Catholics who choose cremation for economic, ecological or other reasons.
It said it was doing so to counter what it called “new ideas contrary to the church’s faith” that had emerged since 1963, including New Age-y ideas that death is a “fusion” with Mother Nature and the universe, or the “definitive liberation” from the prison of the body.
To set the faithful straight, the Vatican said ashes and bone fragments cannot be kept at home, since that would deprive the Christian community as a whole of remembering the dead. Rather, church authorities should designate a sacred place, such as a cemetery or church area, to hold them.
Only in extraordinary cases can a bishop allow ashes to be kept at home, it said. Vatican officials declined to say what circumstances would qualify, but presumably countries where Catholics are a persecuted minority and where Catholic churches and cemeteries have been ransacked would qualify.
The document said remains cannot be divided among family members or put in lockets or other mementos. Nor can the ashes be scattered in the air, land or sea since doing so would give the appearance of “pantheism, naturalism or nihilism,” the guidelines said.
It repeated church teaching that Catholics who choose to be cremated for reasons contrary to the Christian faith must be denied a Christian funeral.
The new instruction carries an Aug. 15 date and says Pope Francis approved it March 18.
The author of the text, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, was asked at a Vatican briefing if Francis had any reservations about the text, particularly the refusal to let family members keep remains of their loved ones at home.
“The dead body isn’t the private property of relatives, but rather a son of God who is part of the people of God,” Mueller said. “We have to get over this individualistic thinking.”
While the new instruction insists that remains be kept together, Vatican officials said they are not about to go gather up the various body parts of saints that are scattered in churches around the world. The practice of divvying up saints’ bodies for veneration — a hand here, a thigh bone there — was a fad centuries ago but is no longer in favor.
“Going to all the countries that have a hand of someone would start a war among the faithful,” reasoned Monsignor Angel Rodriguez Luno, a Vatican theological adviser.
Vatican tells Catholics not to scatter ashes of the dead
Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith attends a press conference on October 25, 2016 at the Vatican (AFP Photo/Alberto Pizzoli)
Vatican City (AFP) – The Vatican on Tuesday urged Catholics not to scatter the ashes of the dead after cremation and instead to store them in places approved by the Church.
The new guidelines published by the Church also say that the ashes of the dead should not be kept at home but should instead be kept at a cemetery or other sacred place.
Doing so reduces “the risk of shielding the dead from prayers for them and the memory of their family and the Christian community”, German cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, the prefect of the doctrinal watchdog, told journalists.
“We also avoid eventually forgetting (them) and the lack of respect which can happen, especially after the passing of the first generation,” he said.
“Conserving ashes in a home is not authorized,” Mueller said.
The Vatican first gave permission for cremation in 1963.
The new guidelines come just in time for “All Souls’ Day” on November 2 when the faithful typically pray for the dead.
“The body is not the private property of the family. A dead person is a son of God. It is part of the body of Christ, it is part of God’s people. It’s for this reason that there is not only private rites for the deceased but it’s a public ceremony,” said Mueller.
Bishops will however be able to authorize exceptions to the new guidelines “in serious and exceptional circumstances linked to local customs and practices”.
The new rules also prohibit the scattering of ashes at sea, said Mueller.
But the guidelines will not be applied retrospectively to the relics of saints whose remains have been preserved over the centuries “to avoid provoking a war between believers”, according to one of Mueller’s aides.
Cremations have become increasingly popular since the Vatican order to allow them was issued a half century ago.
The Vatican has said that cremations “do not touch the soul” and do no “prevent the all powerful God from resurrecting the body”.