Anonymous asked this question on 1/23/2001:
The Church's teaching on Cremation? Is it right or wrong? Is it not a pagan thing and not to be for Christians.
The former Canon Law prohibited with the penal consequence of excommunion the cremation because it was considered an act against faith in resurrection. The freemasons had been the most ardent defenders of this practice. The recent reformed edition permits the cremation because it is not considered any more defiance against faith. However, it includes the provision that cremation be not a denial of faith.
Now I would like to argue against cremation. First, we should read these three numbers of the Catechism.
Respect for the dead
2299 The dying should be given attention and care to help them live their 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.
2300 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.
2301 Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious.
The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body. 
I'm against cremation; in the first place, cremation doesn't seem to be a correct way to treat the "temple of the Holy Spirit".
The ancient Christians treated the body of the dead with great respect. It was responsibility of the deacons to provide a cemetery for the faithful of his community. Pope Callixtus, for instance, was a former administrator of the Catacombs that bear his name. In midst of a pagan world the Christians secured their cemeteries because they wanted to be buried together. Together they wanted to await the coming of the Lord and the day of resurrection. They considered themselves strangers in this world, paroikoi, pilgrims. (The word Parrish stems from paroikia) It is the place where these strangers could rest.
Read the testament of Ephraim the Syrian. He doesn't want a sepulcher, one of those magnificent, stand alone and lonely monuments. He wants to lay with his brother in Christ.
"Lay me not in your sepulchers: for your magnificence profits me not; for I have a covenant with God: that I shall be buried with strangers. I am a stranger, as they were: with them, O my brethren, lay me! For every bird loves its kind: and man loves him that is like himself. In the cemetery lay me: where are the broken of heart, that when the Son of God comes: He may embrace me and raise me among them." (Vita 12).
The word cemetery means dormitory. "The early Christians adopted the word
(which was used by the Greeks of a rest–house for strangers) for the place of interment of the bodies of their departed; thence the English word ‘cemetery,’ ‘the sleeping place,’ is derived."( Vine, W. E., Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old Testament and New Testament Words, (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell) 1981.). Ashes aren't a sign for this kind of sleeping place. The prayers for the dead frequently mention that they rest, sleep in the Lord. Our traditional burying indicates this much better.
Besides Saint Paul suggests that the resurrection is lifting up those who are laying down (sleeping). That suggests a cemetery as the burying place of the bodies of the dead.
I'm talking about symbolism. I' talking about signs which express better our faith. It's not about the possibility of resurrection of those who have been obliterated. I remember that, as students, we discussed how could be the resurrection of a missionary who had been eaten by anthropophagi. Read the magnificent explanation of Saint Paul (1 Cor 15) regarding the resurrection offering precisely an answer against this type of speculation. Remember that wonderful comparison of sowing the perishable body like a seed.
In consequence, I'm certainly against cremation not on theological grounds but because of liturgical and symbolical reasons, which express more and better the hope of resurrection. Sure, you can sprinkle with holy water the ashes of the cremated. Nevertheless, there is no sign anymore of what was the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Let me finish with an anecdote.
Once a member of our Parish hailed me on the street and invited me to enter his house. He wanted to show me something. He been widowed for some years and had married again. In the bedroom of the couple, he had arranged a little chapel in the corner closet. In its center on a column, he had put the ashes of his former wife. He obviously expected some praise for that tasteful little chapel. I told him that he was a bigamist having two women in the same bedroom; that he would not let dies the first wife and so could not really love the second. I suggested he take away the ashes of his first wife and bury them in a cemetery. I know I was rude but at that moment it seemed the only way to make him face up to, what he was doing to his living wife.
I'm open to debate. But can you really and truly debate esthetics? I don't believe so. And if you think that's something esoteric I suggest you read the magnificent and monumental opus of Hans Urs von Balthasar "Gloria" regarding esthetic theology.
graham3 asked this question on 1/25/2001:
I read your remarks re cremation and whole heartedly agree with you. I am convinced as are several priests I have discussed cremation with that it resulted from Masonic infiltration into the Vatican. I have noticed also that many older Catholics still opt for burial rather than cremation.
There is still widespread opinion that the ashes returned are not necessarily those of the person cremated. On that alone I think the Church ought to have refused to allow cremation.
I am writing from England and from time to time to time the media reveal that relatives are being deceived by being given the wrong Ashes. Now all crematoriums maintain that "mistakes" cannot happen because now each cremation is carried out individually. This however did not stop The crematoriums handing the empty coffins back to the undertakers for a "small consideration"
I noticed reference in one answer to "cremains" a sickly term in my view. I did not know that Cremated remains were permitted to be present during Mass or were allowed to be present on the Altar. I have not heard or seen it done here in England. Quite frankly I feel it to be wrong.
I was disturbed on reading Proffs reply because I had been taught that everyone would be united with their bodies on the last day. The Proff suggests this would not be possible because they would be decomposed. This surely is denying the Power of God to reunite all with their bodies at the day of judgment.
Incidentally Regarding the ashes being kept in the bedroom shrine I feel certain that I would have felt the same as you. In fact I am surprised that the new wife permitted it.
I hope you can in confidence clarify some or all of the above
Dear brother in Christ.
The joy of the risen Lord be in your heart.
I admire your passionate opinion. I think this board reflects in some way the panorama of the Church. We have a plurality of opinions. I think we should observe the suggestion of Saint Augustine (I don't remember exactly): "In what is part of our unshakeable faith firmness, in the no-obligation freedom and in all charity".
Throughout the Church's history, there have been ever differences in application of the doctrine. In addition, it has been the time-honored procedure of the Church to act only when that doctrine was under menace. That panorama guarantees an ample field of different interpretations and applications to the Church's life, circumstances and historical moments.
Pope Gregory for instance has permitted animal sacrifice in a historical moment of the evangelization of your country. He argued in favor of a step-by-step growth in faith. This way the different opinions some way reflect the answer of the faithful to the circumstances that God permits. We should learn from each other. I'll give you an example. After being an ardent defendant of theology of liberation in my early years in priesthood, I changed my outlook – before Rome published the two clarifications – because I could not preach violence as an answer to social unjust structures. However, I learned from this kind of doctrine to search for a theology that intrinsically had direct impact on daily life. I had been formed in scholastic abstract theology.
The Church can't and shouldn't protect her members from possible error that may come from pagan ambiance through prohibitions. We are talking about the ample space of free discussion and application. That means that the Church has to form all of her sons and daughters to have the capacity of discernment. They should help each other to discern what is better. That's what we are doing on this board. Your interventions a very valuable part of this interchange of well-intentioned Catholics. Being of different opinion in subject that is free doesn't disqualify anybody. It should nurture the debate and the Spirit will assist us to come closer to the application of truth the way He desires.
Nevertheless, this does not impede that I have some very definite opinions in matters that pertain to the free discussion area. I have learned to look for insights regarding the discussions in the writings of the Fathers of the Church and I find them very inspirational.
Forgive me these general considerations. I offer them as an explanation why I think that the Church shouldn't recur to prohibition of those things that are considered the realm of personal decision.
Cremation is one of those subjects the Church has declared legitimate and not contrary to faith. Therefore, it's not about right or wrong but about convenient or not convenient. That's why I allow that the families bring the urns of ashes to the mass of exequium before burial. That moment isn't the moment to debate the issue, isn't it? They have made a decision and I have to respect it. In other opportunities, I argue against cremation. We suggest to the older members of our communities they place in their testament a codicil that they don't want to be cremated and make it known to the whole family. A problem arises especially when cremation is more economic than burial.
Your input shows that business finds many ways to earn money. People should be alerted. Why don't you just post this information on the board as an additional bit of information in order to form the capacity of discernment?
I think I have addressed the nucleus of your preoccupation. If not I'm happy to continue the dialogue.
God bless you
PS. You observation regarding professor's opinion is an example in case. There are infinite numbers of theories how the resurrection will be. The Church teaches that the same person will be reunited with the same body. How that will be – spiritualized body, the substance but not the secondary elements, etc. etc. – that's open to debate. Saint Paul insists that this kind of disquisition doesn't help the faithful. Professor's wording is a bit ambiguous but can be understood according to the above.