Tag Archives: theology

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

The environment shows us God’s creative activity –what ought to be our response?

Antonio Veglio.jpg

Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliò, president of the Pontifical
Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples
published a letter today for World Tourism Day addressing the theme of “Tourism
and Biodiversity” as proposed by the World Tourism Organization; the theme of
“International Year for Biological Diversity” was adopted by the General
Assembly of the United Nations in 2006. As Archbishop Vegliò noted, “This
proclamation was born of the deep concern for ‘the social, economic,
environmental and cultural implications of the loss of biodiversity, including
negative impacts on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and
stressing the necessity to adopt concrete measures in order to reverse it.'”

particular Council, according to the 1987 Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus,
has as its work the “pastoral solicitude of the Church to the particular needs
of those who have been forced to abandon their homeland, as well as to those
who have none” (149) and “is committed to assuring that journeys undertaken for
reasons of piety, study or relaxation may aid in the moral and religious
formation of the faithful; It assists particular Churches so that all those who
are far from home may be given adequate pastoral assistance (151). It also
oversees the Apostleship of the Sea.

The Church intensively cares for, is present to, the welfare
of her children, indeed, she wants the happiness of all peoples, regardless of people’s particulars. Why are these
paragraphs important to me and perhaps to you?  Because Archbishop Vegliò focuses our attention on the
creative action of God in making the world ex nihilo and that He sustains us. I
don’t believe the Church is being politically correct in advocating “green theology”
because it is fashionable. And, I don’t think it would be acceptable to be
dismissive of matters pertaining to the environment; whether we realize it or not, proper balance and respect for the environment is
necessary for us today and in the future. This is why I think that dioceses, parishes, monasteries and school –in short, all constituencies– ought to incorporate in their pastoral programs a proper catechesis on various subjects that promote and develop an environmental perspective. Catholics ought to take charge in being environmentally sensitive
because of our fundamental belief that God is the creator of world, it is Scripturally well-founded, that God is the
creator of us personally and because we care for all things that allow our
humanity to thrive; and not least is the fact that all things are given for
sustaining our life and giving glory to God. In other words, we really can’t
opt out of caring for the environment and calling those who abuse the
environment on the micro and macro levels to be accountable. I wonder if one can argue that it is a mortal sin to abuse the environment. Respect for our biodiversity is not only a matter of faith and reason but our faith and good public order. 

Nevertheless, Vegliò shows us
that the Church is providing leadership for an authentic environmental
perspective and goal that is truly human and humane. All our work should be
balanced, reasonable and sustainable for the common good.

Some pertinent paragraphs of Archbishop
Vegliò’s letter follows:

As Pope Benedict XVI points out in his Encyclical
letter Caritas in veritate, “in nature, the believer recognizes the wonderful
result of God’s creative activity, which we may use responsibly to satisfy our
legitimate needs, material or otherwise, while respecting the intrinsic balance
of creation” (48) and whose use represents for us “a responsibility towards the
poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole” (49). For
this tourism must be respectful of the environment, looking to reach a perfect
harmony with creation, so as to guarantee the sustainability of the resources
on which it depends, while not leading to irreversible ecological

renegade farmer.jpg

Contact with nature is important and therefore tourism must
make an effort to respect and value the beauty of creation, from the conviction
that “many people experience peace and tranquility, renewal and
reinvigoration, when they come into close contact with the beauty and harmony
of nature. There exists a certain reciprocity: as we care for creation, we
realize that God, through creation, cares for us” (Benedict XVI, World Day of
Peace 2010 message, 13).

There is an element that makes even this effort more
imperative than ever. In the search for God, the human being discovers ways to
bring himself closer to the Mystery, which has creation as a starting point
(CCC 31). Nature and biological diversity speak to us of God Creator, He that
makes himself present in His creation, “for from the greatness and the
beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen (Wis. 13:5),
“for the original source of beauty fashioned them.” (Wis. 13:3) This
is why the world, in its diversity, “presents itself before man’s eyes as
evidence of God, the place where his creative, providential and redemptive
power unfolds” (CSD 487) For this reason, tourism, bringing us closer to
creation in its variety and wealth, can be an occasion to promote and increase
the religious experience.

All of this makes looking for a balance between
tourism and biological diversity, in which they mutually support each other,
urgent and necessary, so that economic development and environmental protection
do not appear as opposed and incompatible elements, but rather that there is a
tendency to reconcile the demands of both (CSD 470).

John Paul II and the Development of a “New Feminism”

Sr Sara Butler.jpgThe April 2010 issue of Inside the Vatican (18:4) published a special commemorative issue observing the papal death of John Paul II and the papal election of Benedict XVI. The editor asked various people to write their memories of one of the popes. Sister Sara Butler, MSBT, a professor of dogmatic theology at St Joseph’s Seminary -Dunwoodie, New York, offered her thoughts on Pope John Paul’s contribution to feminist thinking. Sister Sara is a published author and a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue and the International Theological Commission. Sister remembers:

Looking back over the papacy of the Servant of God John Paul II, I find myself especially grateful for the initiative he took in addressing the feminist critique. The Pope did this in his Letter to Women (1995), his apostolic letter On the Dignity and Vocation of Women (Mulieris dignitatem, 1988), and his ground-breaking catecheses on the “theology of the body.” He not only acknowledged the positive contributions of feminist scholarship and offered needed clarifications and correctives in response to their objections; he also spelled out his own appreciation of the “genius” of women and took steps to promote their increased participation in the Church and in the social order. Since the Pope’s death, we are already beginning to see the fruits of his recommendation that Catholic women undertake to develop a “new feminism,” consistent with Catholic doctrine (Evangelium vitae, par 99). In my opinion , it is hard to overestimate the contribution Pope John Paul II made to meeting this contemporary challenge.

Seeking Christ’s face and body, a foreign concept to many Catholics

The authority of sacred Scripture should be authoritative enough, but in case Scripture fails your logic, the Church also says that Truth is identified and lived through and with sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. More clearly: the believing Catholic holds that Truth is revealed in three inter-related pillars: sacred Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. One can’t have one of the pillars without the others. To do so would mean that you are Protestant.

Concerning many in the Church (catechist, laity and ordained) is the lack of understanding of who Jesus is, and His place in our lives today. Many Catholics are functional agnostics; they have no concept of who Jesus is, why He is important, and what he has to do with the Church. No surprise to me since I contend that many of the ordained can’t adequately explain matters of Christology or Sotierology (the study of Chist and the study of salvation respectively) as is evidence in their praying the Mass, preaching, their practice of the sacraments in their own lives, and their teaching in other venues. I would also contend that many of the ecclesial problems we face today are the direct result of not really knowing who Jesus is, and how to conform ourselves to His Way. The Pslams, as one example, tell us to seek the face of the Lord (the Christian would understand this to mean, seek the face of Christ). As one consequence of not knowing Jesus is the denial that we are already saved –that salvation has already happened, that the hundredfold promised by the Lord is already fulfilled. Do you know that you are saved? Do act as though you are saved or are still persisting in your sinful ways?

In the recent English edition of the L’Osservatore Romano (7 April 2010), Lucetta Scardaffia’s article “The Shroud and secularization” makes a few good points to think about when asking the questions about who Jesus is and what we face today:

“It seems incredible, but many young people do not even know that Jesus existed historically: in various countries, including Italy, today the history of Christianity no longer forms part of the school curriculum, and this leads to an ignorance that is also the result of tendencies geared to make Christianity a religion like others, with no specificity, hence leading to considering Christ as a mythical being, almost as if he were a Greek, Roman or Orienal divinity.

In international milieus — even in organizations such as the United Nations– propaganda for a mistaken concept of multiculturalism has been spreading for decades: this is proposed as a panacea for every conflict, providing that all religions be considered absolutely equal, in other words that each waives all claim to truth.

Remembering that Christianity is born from the existence in history of a man, Jesus, who said he was the Son of God, is an obstacle to the seemingly irenic fabrication because it highlights the difference of Christianity in comparison with other religions. A God who becomes incarnate to save human beings, in fact is an absolute unicum [absolutely unique], difficult to standardize.

The history of the birth of the individual is also interwoven with the history of the theological and sacramental significance of the Body of Christ –with the history of the sacrifice of the altar, for which the Body becomes a monstrance.

Internal Forum: the priest’s confessional as a dialogue with salvation

Benedict XVI
addressed participants in a short course on the internal forum on March 11 hosted and organized by Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli and Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, OFM Conv., of the Apostolic Penitentiary. Next
to the celebration of the Mass, there is likely no other important work of a
priest than to reconcile sinners to God. This is a helpful teaching of the Pope’s since at the seminary dinner table these days there’s much conversation about the priest’s ministry of forgiveness. Note what I think are the important
points the Holy Father makes regarding the dialogue of salvation.

Your course is placed, providentially, in the Year for Priests, which I
proclaimed for the 150th anniversary of the birth in heaven of St. John Mary
Vianney, who exercised in a heroic and fruitful way the ministry of
reconciliation. As stated in the letter of proclamation: “All of us
priests must hear those words which regard us personally that he (the Curé
d’Ars) put in Christ’s mouth: ‘I will charge my ministers with proclaiming to
sinners, whom I am always ready to receive, that my Mercy is infinite.’ From
the Holy Curé d’Ars
we priests can learn not only an inexhaustible trust in the
sacrament of penance, which drives us to put it at the center of our pastoral
concerns, but also the method of the ‘dialogue of salvation’ that should be
carried out in it

hearing confession.jpg

Where do the roots of heroism and fruitfulness sink,
with which St. John Mary Vianney lived his own ministry of confessor? First of
all in an intense personal penitential dimension. The awareness of one’s own
limits and the need to take recourse to Divine Mercy to ask for pardon, to
convert the heart and to be sustained on the path of sanctity, are essential in
the life of the priest
: Only one who has first experienced its greatness can be
a convinced herald and administrator of the Mercy of God. Every priest becomes
minister of penance
by his ontological configuration to Christ, High and
Eternal Priest, who reconciles humanity with the Father; however, fidelity in
administering the sacrament of reconciliation is entrusted to the responsibility
of the presbyter.

We live in a cultural context marked by a hedonistic and
relativistic mentality, which tends to cancel God from the horizon of life,
does not favor the acquisition of a clear picture of values of reference and
does not help to discern good from the evil and to mature a correct sense of
sin. This situation makes even more urgent the service of administrators of
Divine Mercy.

We must not forget, in fact, that there is a sort of vicious
circle between obfuscation of the experience of God and the loss of the sense
of sin. However, if we look at the cultural context in which St. John Mary
Vianney lived, we see that, in several aspects, it was not so dissimilar from
. Also in his time, in fact, a hostile mentality to faith existed,
expressed by forces that sought actually to impede the exercise of the
ministry. In such circumstances, the Holy Curé d’Ars made “the church his
home,” to lead men to God. He lived radically the spirit of prayer, the
personal and intimate relationship with Christ, the celebration of Mass,
Eucharistic adoration and evangelical poverty, appearing to his contemporaries
as such an evident sign of the presence of God, as to drive so many penitents
to approach his confessional.

In the conditions of liberty in which it is
possible to exercise today the priestly ministry, it is necessary that the
presbyters live in a “lofty way” their own response to their
vocation, because only one who becomes every day the living and clear presence
of the Lord can arouse in the faithful the sense of sin, give courage and have
the desire born for the forgiveness of God.

Dear brothers, it is necessary to
turn to the confessional, as place in which to celebrate the sacrament of
reconciliation, but also as place in which to “dwell” more often, so
that the faithful can find mercy, counsel and comfort, feel loved and
understood by God and experience the presence of Divine Mercy, close to the real
Presence in the Eucharist.

The “crisis” of the Sacrament of Penance,
so often talked about, is a question that faces first of all priests and their
great responsibility to educate the People of God to the radical demands of the
Gospel. In particular, it asks them to dedicate themselves generously to the
listening of sacramental confessions
; to guide the flock with courage, so that
it will not be conformed to the mentality of this world (cf. Romans 12:2), but
will be able to make choices also against the current, avoiding accommodations
and compromises. Because of this it is important that the priest have a
permanent ascetic tension, nourished by communion with God, and that he
dedicate himself to a constant updating in the study of moral theology and of
human sciences.

St. John Mary
Vianney was able to establish with penitents a real and proper “dialogue
of salvation,” showing the beauty and greatness of the Lord’s goodness and
arousing that desire for God and heaven, of which the saints are the first
bearers. He affirmed: “The good God knows everything. Before you even
confess, he knows that you will sin again and yet he forgives you. How great is
the love of our God, which drives him to willingly forget the future, so as to
forgive us” (Monnin A., Il Curato d’Ars. Vita di Gian-Battista-Maria
, Vol. 1, Turin, 1870, p. 130). 

It is the priest’s task to foster
that experience of “dialogue of salvation,” which, born of the
certainty of being loved by God, helps man to acknowledge his own sin and to
introduce himself, progressively, into that stable dynamic of conversion of
, which leads to the radical renunciation of evil and to a life according
to God (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1431).

Dear priests, what an
extraordinary ministry the Lord has entrusted to us! As in the Eucharistic
Celebration he puts himself in the hands of the priest to continue to be
present in the midst of his people, similarly, in the sacrament of
reconciliation he entrusts himself to the priest so that men will have the
experience of the embrace with which the Father receives the prodigal son,
restoring him the filial dignity and reconstituting him fully heir
(cf. Luke

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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