Tag Archives: funeral rites

Cremains to be buried

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith gave an instruction, Ad resurgendum cum Christo (“To Rise With Christ”) concerning the dignity of ashes/cremains of the deceased member of the Faithful.

Ad resurgendum cum Christo (2016) is a binding Roman Curial document governing the life of the church, which was explicitly approved by the Pope with his express order. Yet, this document reveals nothing new as it is a clarification with an attempt reinforce existing canonical and liturgical (ritual) norms already in force.  Until 1963, the Catholic Church prohibited cremation because of the fitting nature of keeping intact the visible unity the body, its dignity (even in death) and the theology of the resurrection of the body (see Nicene Creed) the Last Day. Likewise, the Church’s teaching desired to counter philosophical views that rejected the teaching explicitly Christian belief in bodily resurrection. The permission for cremation was put into the Code of Canon Law in 1983 for the Latin Church and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches in 1990.

For our purposes here, Ad resurgendum cum Christo reiterates the long held view that the Church is not opposed to the practice of cremation (canons 1176.3 and 1184.1 no.2 refer to burial and cremation).

Our theology is rooted in the body. It is a theology and an anthropology based in revelation and sacramentality of Christian Initiation (baptism, confirmation and Eucharist) integrating total person –body, soul, and spirit– as the subject as the center and locus of salvation in Christ Jesus.

030501-N-6141B-022 Central Command Area of Responsibility (May 01, 2003) -- Officers & sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) honor six former U.S. military members during a burial at sea ceremony. Donald Cook is one of the many warships supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Operation Iraqi Freedom is the multi-national coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and end the regime of Saddam Hussein. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Journalist Alan J. Baribeau. (RELEASED)

The most eye-grabbing part of the instruction for many is the re-iteration of the prohibition on the scattering of ashes following the Mass of Christian Burial.

Ad resurgendum cum Christo teaches:

She [the church] 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. (no. 3)

Hence, we can understand the author meaning by “fusion with Mother Nature or the universe” as the practices people do in disposing of the ashes of the beloved: the scattering of their ashes over particular lands, mountains, or waters.  The Church reminds us that it is strictly prohibited to divide the ashes among family or their reservation in a home, although culturally sensitive exceptions allowing domestic repose of cremains are left open to the local ordinary, presuming “agreement with the Episcopal Conference or Synod of Bishops of the Oriental Churches” (no. 6). Additionally, we faithful Catholics do not accept philosophies that speaks to “pantheism, naturalism, or nihilism.” It is taught that the ashes cannot be “preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry, or other objects” (no. 7).

You ought to read the document because I bet that many will not realize that the burial of the body or deposition of the ashes in consecrated ground is matter of doctrine. Our disposition of the ashes in a sacred place keeps departed from being forgotten or their remains from being shown a lack of respect.

“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” AND 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 eventuality is possible, most especially once the immediately subsequent generation has too passed away. Also it prevents any unfitting or superstitious practices” (no. 5).

Catholics believe in the resurrection of the flesh as fundamental point of received theology and therefore, in death, the body is not incidental unimportant and nor is it trash. Ours is a personal religion holding to the point that what we do with the body matters. No person is anonymous and the burial or disposition of ashes in a way that rejects the history of a person (the name, the person, the  identity of the person) is contrary to common Catholic practice and belief. Belong to the communion of saints through grace. God created each person and calls each person to Himself at the time of  death.

Anyone working in a parish these days will acknowledge the difficulties in working Catholics today in the face of culture; the “unchurched” or those labelled as “nones” are rapidly becoming a problem due to a lack of education, a desire to really know and understand the teachings of Divine Revelation and the Church. The unchurched allow socio-economic-political priorities and personal mores to trump truth. Try speaking with a grieving person (or a pre-grieving person) about the church’s scriptural, doctrinal, and sacramental/ritual reasons for requiring that the corpse or cremains be present for the wake and funeral mass and that cremains be finally placed in a cemetery or columbarium… and you will see the problems at hand and vitriol heaped on a pastoral minister. I have had to try to convince  daily-Mass Catholics to bury the ashes placing Mom on the mantlepiece in their living room or a closet or giving half the ashes to a friend. Not easy.

When John F. Kennedy, Jr. died with his wife in a plane accident in 1999, the burial of cremains was at sea.  The cremains went into a container and dropped overboard at sea.  The family and Church made the distinction  between “burial at sea” and “scattering at sea.” While many say this a  distinction without a difference, but there is a difference.  A burial at sea has the cremains remain intact and together. With the scattering of the cremains are scattered;  i.e., no container to hold human remains together. The same would apply to burial of a body at sea. The Catholic question here is the integrity of the remains.

Archbishop Peter Sartain, paraphrasing an Easter homily of Cardinal George’s in his homily at Cardinal George’s funeral Mass said: “If the earth is our mother, then the grave is our home and the world is a closed system turned in on itself. If Christ is risen from the grave and the Church is our mother, then our destiny reaches beyond space and time, beyond what can be measured and controlled.”

We all should read St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 15.

Life is changed, not ended

The funeral rites of the Catholic Church say it all: 

In him the hope of blessed resurrection has dawned, that those saddened by the certainty of dying might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come. Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven. (Preface I For the Dead)
Earlier today I went to the Mass of Christian Burial of a childhood friend who lost her fight against breast cancer at the age of 40. Maureen Leary Minnick grew up near me, she and her family have been friends of my family for years; her parents are daily communicants at the local Catholic parish and her brother and I were in the Boy Scouts and in high school together. I am saddened by Maureen’s death. Much was revealed about Maureen that I didn’t know but now cherish. Time has a way of being a great separator. Maureen faced her life and death in the same way: with courage, love, joy, resolution to make life better. In short, her life was not a fairy tale but one that had certainty of faith and joy. She leaves a great husband and two small boys (who have their mother’s good looks). Maureen died on July 1.
The paradox of the Christian life is such that in order to live fully we have to give it away. In Maureen’s case, she had to offer her life to the Lord earlier that most. 
This week, too, a friend at the parish had succumbed also to breast cancer after a long and bitter fight with that disease. Monika Forndran fought long and hard and with dignity; she clearly knew that her Calvary was like that of the Lord’s, and that His triumph over sin and death was also hers by adoption that happened in the resurrection. Monika’s death happened on June 30.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of us all, Saint Agatha, patron saint of those who (and die) of diseases of the breast, guide Maureen and Monika to Paradise. May we recall the grace that in death life is changed not ended as rest on the heart of the Lord.

Otto von Habsburg, 98, Archduke, RIP

Otto von Habsburg.jpgArchduke Franz Joseph Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius von Hapsburg, 98, died July 4, in his sleep at his home. His Imperial Highness was the eldest son of the last Austian-Hungarian emperor, Charles I. The Empire, ruled by the Habsburg family since the 13th century disintegrated following World War I.

Archduke Otto was well-regarded as a statesman of modern Europe, particularly supporting the notion of the European Union.

By tradition, the Archduke’s body will be buried, next to his wife, Regina, in the Capuchin Church in Austria and his heart will be buried in Hungary at the Benedictine Royal Abbey of Pannonhalma.
Archduke Otto is survived by his seven children

Cremation and the Catholic Church

Resurrection AdelCastagno.jpgCatholics today are choosing cremation over the burial of the body. The numbers are on the increase in recent years due to economic reasons, perceived ecological concerns space limitations in some places. But are these good reasons to chose cremation of the body? The Church’s allowance of cremation is given by exception with a strong preference for the entombment of the body (either in the ground or a masoleum). Why? Principally because cremation does not fully express a Christian’s belief in the Resurrection of the body on the Last Day.

Though permitted by the Catholic Church, cremation is not the preferred way of caring for the deceased (Order of Christian Funerals Appendix, 414). The Church retains the value of imitating Jesus’ own burial prior to His Resurrection. We believe that in death “life has changed, not ended.” Hence, the human body has a dignity and this dignity is expressed liturgically through the funeral rites of the Church. The sacred Liturgy is the expression of what we believe and our hope in God’s promises. Think of the ritual actions of the family and friends gathering for a wake (keeping vigil), prayers, the processions, blessing with holy water, the burning of incense, the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass for the soul of the deceased and then burial. Those who say that they follow Christ and believe in Him as Savior normally imitate what he did as they closely adhere to what He said and how He did things. The further develop this idea an appeal to the reasonableness of Church teaching is necessary. The US Bishops’ document “Reflections on the Body, Cremation, and Catholic Funeral Rites” (1997) states the following about the body: “This is the Body once washed in baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed with the bread of life. Our identity and self-consciousness as a human person are expressed in and through the body… Thus, the Church’s reverence and care for the body grows out of a reverence and concern for the person who the Church now commends to the care of God.”

What is cremation? Cremation is the taking of the dead body and reducing it to ash and bone fragments by the application of intense heat (in excess of 1400 degrees) and the pulverization  of what remains. The ash and bone pieces are placed in an urn.
The practice of cremation was normal in the pagan world prior to the Resurrection of Jesus and in the early of Christianity. But because the earlier followers of Christ and belief in bodily resurrection the practice waned. Eventually, it was rejected as an accepted practice by the Church because cremation became a method of rejecting Christian belief in Christ’s resurrection, our own resurrection on the last day and the rejection of the body as sacred. The   presence and popularity of the Masons and their rejection of fundamental Catholic belief, the Church taught that cremation was prohibited. You can trace the clear teaching from the French Revolution.
The Church respects the body, the living and the dead. Regarding the dead, the Church states that “The dying should be given attention and care to help them live the last moments in dignity and peace. They will be helped by the prayer of their relatives , who must see to it that the sick receive at the proper time the sacraments that prepare them to meet the living God. The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy, it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit (Catechism 2299-2300).
With the passage of time, the Church in an effort to recognize the legitimate needs of her children, changed her teaching with the publication of a 1963 decree of Blessed John XXIII relaxing the restrictions if Catholic teaching is maintained. At the Catechism of the Catholic Church the Church said, “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denail of faith in the resurrection of the body” (2301). And the Code of Canon Law (1983) states: “The Church earnestly recommends the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (1176).
Some might say the Church has strong “feelings” on cremation. The Church’s teaching has nothing to do with feelings. And the Church’s preference is not one opinion among many nor is it akin to having a preference for a porterhouse steak over hamburger. What happens to the body after death is based on solid sacramental theology and two millennia of experience.
In sum, what is expected (hoped for):
1. the offering of prayer and sacraments for the dying, especially at the time of death
2. the showing of respect for the deceased with regard to preparing the body for a wake
3. the praying of the Office of the Dead and prayers for the dead at the wake
4. the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass in Church in the presence of the body
5. the burial of the body or the cremation of the body and then the burial of the cremains
6. the daily praying for the soul, the periodic offering of Mass for the soul of the deceased and visiting the cemetery, especially during the month of November, the Month of All Souls.

While three members of my family chose cremation as a burial option, my family was attentive to the sacramentality of the body and Catholic burial rituals (wake, Mass with the body present & burial of the ashes in the local Catholic cemetery.

Funny that Net TV posted on this subject and that I am posting about it today given that just the other day my mother told me that a long time family friend distributed the ashes of her parents to her family and friends in zip-lock bags. Honestly, I heard of of such wierd and disrespectful things happening but I thought the stories were fiction. Such actions (distributiing the cremains, making jewlery out of the cremains or placing the cremains on the mantle or in a home closet) clearly show a rejection (subtle as it may be) of the blessedness of the human body and it being a temple of the Holy Spirit. I am, quite frankly, a bit crazed by the practice of doing any but what the Church asks to be done with the cremains.
Watch the news story “The Church on Cremantion

Ted Kennedy: mercy or damnation? What do real Christians think?

In the week since the obsequies for Edward Kennedy, Senator, not a few self-appointed ministers of God’s justice and mercy have rendered their judgement: the Senator should not have been buried using the rites of the Catholic Church. Interesting.

The sacred Liturgy tells us what we who are baptized believe: we are sinners and God’s mercy is in abundance. Sinners need and want mercy from God almighty. I want and need His forgiveness and His tender embrace. I am sure Ted Kennedy wanted the same. Since I was not at his bedside when he was sick, nor did I hear the Senator’s confession and nor was I present when his priest gave him the Sacrament of the Sick, Viaticum and the Apostolic Pardon. Presumably he received these sacred rites before his death. In short, I don’t know the state of his soul. I do know that he wrote to the Holy Father and a kind reply was received.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley has been criticized for being a pastor of souls; he explains as much on his blog this week. The bishop of Madison, WI, Robert Morlino, has a wonderful piece on this subject and I highly recommend your reading it. Use it for you lectio. Bishop Morlino’s reflection is found here.
Is a lack of mercy to a sinner the demonstration of Christianity’s decay? What virtues are being taught and lived when Christians so violently pontificate that mercy is not possible for the sinner, even such a public sinner? Does Christianity have any real meaning left? If we break mercy from the Christian life then we no longer have a Christian religion that leads one to salvation in Christ. To whom do we witness: Christ or the self?

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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