June 15-21, 2006
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
Catholic Church defines it’s teaching on cremation
Mark Lazaroski, diocesan executive director of Catholic cemeteries, wants people to know what is and isn’t acceptable about cremation practices according to the Catholic Church.
Since the 1970’s, the number of cremations that have taken place in the diocese has increased. “Eighteen percent of our burials are cremations,” said Lazaroski. “When I started working at Catholic cemeteries 25 years ago, it was less than one percent.” Lazaroski believes it is an economic issue.
Cremation (using fire and heat) is the process by which the body of the deceased is reduced to its basic elements. Cremation is permitted for Catholics as long as it is not chosen in denial of Christian teaching on the Resurrection and the sacredness of the human body.
Although cremation of the body of the deceased is permitted, Catholic teaching continues to stress the preference for burial or entombment of the body. This is done in imitation of the burial of Jesus’ body. According to the Catholic Teaching on Cremation publication, when cremation is chosen for a good reason, the full course of the order of Christian funerals should be celebrated, including the vigil service (wake), the funeral liturgy and the Rite of Committal. The preservation of this order allows for the greater expression of beliefs and values, especially, the sacredness of human life, the dignity of the individual person and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the firstborn of the dead. Through its funeral rites, the church commends the dead to the merciful love of God and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins.
The church clearly prefers and urges that the body be present during the vigil and funeral Mass, and that if cremation is to be used, it take place following the Rite of Final Commendation. It wasn’t always this way. Back in the 1970’s, when cremation became more popular, the Catholic Church didn’t recognize the cremains (remains) as being the body. Lazaroski, along with the other members of the Cemetery Conference, asked the officials in Rome for consideration to have the cremains present at the funeral Mass. They tried to standardize the methods of cremation burial in the U.S. “The church has come a long way to help people,” remarked Lazaroski. The cremains would then be interred during the Rite of Committal. However, the diocesan bishop may for a good reason permit the cremains to be present for the funeral liturgy.
Church teaching insists that cremains must be given the same respect as the body, including the manner in which they are carried and the attention given to their appropriate transport and placement. Catholic cemeteries has offered several options to accommodate the placement of the cremains. They may be put away in designated niches in the mausoleum or be buried in the cremation gardens. The gardens contain smaller plots on which a monument can be placed. There is also the option for the cremains of loved ones to be buried together. According to the church, cremains are to be buried or entombed, preferably in a Catholic cemetery, and using the rites provided by the order of Christian funerals. The following are not considered to be reverent dispositions that the church requires: scattering cremains, dividing cremains and keeping cremains in the home. “People need to understand the ramifications of scattering the cremains,” said Lazaroski. In his experience, he said people often regret it later when they don’t bury the cremains of their loved ones.
The remains of a cremated body should be treated with the same respect given to the corporeal remains of a human body. This includes a worthy container to hold the cremated remains. If you are considering cremation, it is wise to discuss your choice with your family, your parish priest, or the Catholic Cemeteries Office.
Lazaroski highly recommends preplanning death preparations. The diocesan Catholic Cemeteries Office offers a positive way for families to deal with death together through a “pre-need” session. During the session, families are able to ask questions about death preparations. Staff at the Cemeteries Office offers options such as burial in the ground, mausoleum or cremation. “I have a passion to help people do what is right,” said Lazaroski.
To receive a copy of Catholic Teaching on Cremation, call the Catholic Cemeteries Office at (315) 475-4639.