Vatican’s Stand On Cremation Changes: Here’s What Devout Catholics Can And Cannot Do With The Ashes Of Their Loved Ones

The Vatican has made a few changes to the guidelines pertaining to cremation. While the Church still considers burning the remains of the loved ones to be a “brutal destruction” of the body, it has added several more caveats to the procedure.

Timed to coincide with Halloween and “All Souls Day,” which falls on November 2, when the faithful are supposed to pray for and remember the dead, the Vatican has issued a new set of instructions for those families who wish to cremate their dead, instead of the preferred burial method. While the Holy See still advises to bury the deceased, cremation has been permitted since 1963. However, the Church has now issued several conditions that need to be followed if the dead are to be cremated instead of being buried in a church-approved cemetery.

The revised guidelines about cremation come from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It reiterates that burial is still the most preferred method of remembering or honoring the dead. Interestingly, the document doesn’t hide the Church’s position on cremation, with officials terming the method a “brutal destruction” of the body. However, the guidelines officially recognize the wishes of increasing number of Catholics who want to be cremated.

According to the new guidelines from the Vatican’s doctrinal office, Catholics may be cremated, but the ashes can’t be kept in the homes of family members, reported CBS News. Moreover, even if the deceased may have requested prior to his or her death, the ashes can be scattered over land, in air, or at sea. Additionally, the ashes can’t be divvied up. Furthermore, relatives can’t preserve the ashes “in mementos, pieces of jewelry, or other objects,” notes the revised guidelines. The last aspect may have been targeted at specific companies that offer the service.

The only permissible final resting place for the ashes will be according to the church and a place it designates. The sacred, church-approved place will be designated by the local churches, and the relatives will have to hand over the urns for safekeeping.

Ever since the birth of Christianity about 2,000 years ago, the Catholic Church has expressly preferred the dead of its religion be buried in designated regions. According to the faith, those buried have the best chance of resurrection. However, the Vatican did grant permission for cremation, but categorically noted that the process doesn’t suggest a denial of faith about resurrection. In other words, Catholics can cremate their dead, and while the Church doesn’t prohibit the method, it asks that the process shouldn’t strip away the traditional beliefs. Catholic funeral rites should not be denied to those who had asked to be cremated, the Church said, reported CNN.

Many in the community have long justified and preferred cremation. Cemetery plots are increasingly becoming a rare, prized, and expensive proposition. Many Christian families often invest in premium burial plots and, needless to say, pay a hefty premium to reserve a place to bury their dead ones, long before they die. Apart from the plots, prices of coffins too have risen sharply in the past few decades. More often than not, these coffins are quite elaborate and ornate, which really shoots up the costs.

Some environmentalists have objected to the use of rare types of wood. The fact that cremation requires a lot of wood is a classic case of irony. However, modern-day furnaces that operate on natural gas or even electricity do address the problem of pollution and tree-cutting.

The Vatican may have decided to revise the guidelines because it wanted to dispel the “erroneous ideas about death.” According to the Church, modern societies often demean death with concepts about afterlife that may trivialize dead bodies. In particular, the Church opposes concepts of pantheism (the worship of nature), naturalism (the idea that all truths are derived from nature, not religion), and nihilism (a deep skepticism about all received truths). If cremation stems from any of these beliefs, then the deceased should not receive a Catholic burial, note the revised guidelines.

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