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Good morning father Angelo,
I read all your answers regarding cremation and the scattering in nature of the ashes on your website.  My mother requested both.
Now I would like to ask if there are any pious practices or prayers to do aside from a prayer when the ashes are scattered. (public authority must also be notified of the scattering)

Thanks.

Best regards. S.B.


Priest’s answer

Dear friend,

1. The Church, while allowing cremation, encourages the burial of the bodies.

2. Four reasons are mentioned in the instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith Ad resurgendum cum Christo dated August 15, 2016.

1) “By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body”.

2) She “intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity”.

3) Furthermore, burial in a cemetery or another sacred place adequately corresponds to the piety and respect owed to the bodies of the faithful departed who through Baptism have become temples of the Holy Spirit and in which “as instruments and vessels the Spirit has carried out so many good works”.

4) “Finally, the burial of the faithful departed in cemeteries or other sacred places encourages family members and the whole Christian community to pray for and remember the dead, while at the same time fostering the veneration of martyrs and saints”.

3. This instruction reminds us that through the practice of burying the dead in cemeteries, in churches or their environs, Christian tradition has upheld the communion between the living and the dead.  

At the same time it has opposed any tendency to minimize the event of death, which we all must prepare for.

It also remedies the danger of relegating the event of death of a loved one to the purely private sphere, thus neglecting the social and ecclesial dimension of each person whose birth we rejoiced at, whose life we shared, who participated in the joys and sorrows of others, whose own contribution we took advantage of, and to whom we donated ourselves. 

4. Though favoring burial or interment, “in circumstances when cremation is chosen because of sanitary, economic or social considerations, this choice must never violate the explicitly-stated or the reasonably inferable wishes of the deceased faithful. The Church raises no doctrinal objections to this practice, since cremation of the deceased’s body does not affect his or her soul, nor does it prevent God, in his omnipotence, from raising up the deceased body to new life. Thus cremation, in and of itself, objectively negates neither the Christian doctrine of the soul’s immortality nor that of the resurrection of the body”.

Cremation is not prohibited, “unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine”.

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.

6. The reservation of the ashes of the departed in a sacred place may reduce the risk 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 also passed away. Also it prevents any unfitting or superstitious practices.

7. Therefore the instruction declares: “For the reasons given above, the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted”. It further states: “It is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects. These courses of action cannot be legitimized by an appeal to the sanitary, social, or economic motives that may have occasioned the choice of cremation”. This is to avoid entertaining the thought that death is the end of everything and any connection with the living is broken.

8.  It would have been nice if the instruction had stressed the importance of the sepulcher, and the value of being buried in a sacred place. Saint Thomas fills this gap when he stresses the importance of the funeral monument, even though the word monument evokes something grandiose when in fact a simple sepulcher, a niche, will suffice. To quote him: “It profits the dead in so far as one bears the dead in mind and prays for them” (Summa Theologiae, Supplement, 71,11). 

“That, moreover, burial in a sacred place profits the dead, does not result from the action done, but rather from the action itself of the doer: when, to wit, the dead person himself, or another, arranges for his body to be buried in a sacred place, and commends him to the patronage of some saint, by whose prayers we must believe that he is assisted, as well as to the suffrages of those who serve the holy place, and pray more frequently and more specially for those who are buried in their midst”.

In the past cemeteries were given the name of saints, mostly martyrs. This commended the souls of the faithful departed to the intercession of the saint that the cemetery was named after.

Today the same intercession is provided by the patron saint of the particular territory or parish where the place is located.

Scattering the remains in the air or in the sea means to deny them the special intercession of the saints who protect that sacred place.

I bless you, I remember you in my prayer and wish all the best.

Father Angelo