An instruction was released at the end of October by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under the guidance of Pope Francis regarding the scattering of cremated remains and what is and is not accepted by the Church.
While most of us are well-versed on the Catholic Church’s teaching regarding burial and cremation practices, CMS thinks it is important to reflect on the importance of why Pope Francis chose to publish these guidelines. First, the timing of the announcement came as we celebrated the Feast of All Saints on November 1st and All Souls on November 2nd. November is traditionally a month of remembrance as we enter into Advent. This pronouncement is receiving special attention worldwide and was broadcasted by major media outlets like CNN, the New York Times, and others. This is also a pronouncement to the entire Universal Church. It helps to clarify guidelines to the Church around the world where funeral and burial customs have been challenged. It also puts to rest growing discussions over the last decade about the practice of scattering of cremated remains.
While the Catholic Church approved cremation as an acceptable form of disposition of our remains in 1963, it was never contemplated that industries would spring forth giving people all sorts of options on what to do with the remains. Not only do people scatter them, but there are businesses that will place them in an ocean reef, shoot them into space, make them into fireworks, divide them up as keepsakes, and even make them into jewelry. Our sacred tradition of burying the remains of the deceased in the consecrated grounds of a Catholic cemetery was a given for decades and has been challenged by the technology of cremations. No longer is there a health code issue requiring this practice. It was appropriate to have the Vatican issue guidance that can be used for education of Catholics.
Also of significance is the dignity of human life and the treatment of these remains in death. Pope Francis reminds us that the body is the sacred vessel which carries the soul. As such, in death we honor the deceased by placing our remains in a cemetery or sacred place.
To read the Instruction, click here.