The Holy See recently issued an instruction, Ad resurgendum cum Christo (To Rise with Christ) that covers many issues related to cremation and the Catholic Church.
Since 1963, cremation has been allowed for Catholics. It is understood that burial of the body remains the first and best choice for caring for a deceased love one. At the same time, the document recognizes that Catholics, like many others, are choosing cremation for economic, environmental and other reasons.
In the United States, cremated remains have been allowed to be present at a Funeral Mass since 1997. In 2012, the Committee on Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the following instruction:
“The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, and the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires.”
The recently released document, while treating the subject of cremation at greater length, does not change this teaching, as can be found in Section 5:
“When, for legitimate motives, cremation of the body has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery or, in certain cases, in a church or an area, which has been set aside for this purpose, and so dedicated by the competent ecclesial authority.
“From the earliest times, Christians have desired that the faithful departed become the objects of the Christian community’s prayers and remembrance. Their tombs have become places of prayer, remembrance and reflection. The faithful departed remain part of the Church who believes ‘in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church.’
“The reservation of the ashes of the departed in a sacred place ensures that they are not excluded from the prayers and remembrance of their family or the Christian community. It prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten, or their remains from being shown a lack of respect, which eventually is possible, most especially once the immediately subsequent generation has too passed away. Also it prevents any unfitting or superstitious practices.”
For these reasons, the Church does not approve of keeping the ashes of loved ones at home, dividing them among family members, placing them in jewelry or scattering them on land or at sea, noting that these practices are contrary to Christian tradition over many centuries. We ask you to keep these considerations in mind when making arrangements for oneself or for family members.