Proper Disposition of Cremated Remains

The Committee on Doctrine for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on March 20, 2023 made a statement on the Proper Disposition of Bodily Remains. They said the body is not something that is used temporarily by the soul as a tool that can ultimately be discarded as no longer useful. Rather Jesus Christ has promised that one day, at the Final Resurrection, the souls of the dead will be reunited with their bodies.

The preferred method for honoring the remains of the dead remains burial of the body. There is nothing about the practice of cremation in itself that conflicts with Church teaching about the immortality of the soul or the resurrection of the body. The basic requirement in showing proper respect to the ashes of the deceased is that they be laid to rest in a sacred place. They cannot be permanently at home or divided or scattered in the air, on land, or at sea.

The Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in December addressed a particular pastoral situation in the Archdiocese of Bologna regarding the preservation of the ashes of the deceased after cremation. It said that ashes of the deceased be preserved in a consecrated place, but it also said that family members could request a minimal part of the ashes to be kept in a sacred place of significance for the history of the deceased person.

Citing its 2016 instruction, “Ad resurgendum cum Christo” (“To Rise with Christ”) referring to the conservation of the ashes of cremation, the dicastery’s new note upheld its recommendation to preserve ashes in a special urn and to keep ashes “in a sacred place, such as a cemetery, or in an area dedicated to this purpose, provided that it has been so designated by the ecclesiastical authority.”

Anonymous burial or scattering of ashes is not compatible with the Christian faith, according to the instruction. Ashes are not to be divided among various family members.

The Catholic Cemetery Conference Board of Directors received a letter from Most Rev. Daniel E. Flores on April 4, 2024, the Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine. The committee concluded that the issues in the Archdiocese of Bologna addressed by the Vatican response do not affect the context in the United States. They highlighted the pertinent passage in their previous instruction:

“The basic requirement for showing proper respect to the ashes of the deceased is that they ‘be laid to rest in a sacred place.’ They may not be kept permanently at home or divided among various family members. They may not be scattered ‘in the air, on the land, at sea’ or in some other way. They may not be carried around encased in jewelry or other mementos. They must be put in a sacred place, usually a cemetery, though it could possibly be a church or some other area that has been set aside for this purpose, and so dedicated by the competent ecclesial authority.”

As we celebrate Mass in commemoration of Memorial Day at Holy Savour Cemetery, Bethlehem on Saturday, May 25 at 10 a.m., may we remember our loved ones interred or entombed in our diocesan and parish cemeteries as before without exception. May we always honor them first by the proper disposition of our deceased.

By Monsignor William Baver, diocesan director of cemeteries, and pastor of SS. Simon and Jude, Bethlehem and Our Lady Help of Christians, Allentown.


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