Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ad Resurgendum cum Christo

It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins (2 Maccabees 12:46).

In our Catholic tradition, this time of year is focused in a particular way on the end, and the month of November is dedicated in a special way to remembering and praying for those who have died. 

Faith challenges us both to treat all of life as a preparation for a good death and not to neglect our duty to pray for those who have gone before us. Hence, the importance of celebrating a proper Catholic funeral - an especially privileged moment when the entire Church visibly intercedes on behalf on the recently deceased. (Sadly one study I read recently suggested that only about 66% of US Catholics who have died in recent years have had a full Catholic funeral.) But especially in this Holy Year of Mercy, we have been reminded that praying for both the living and the dead is one of the seven spiritual works of mercy, while burying the dead counts as one of the seven corporal works of mercy.

And now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued a new Instruction Ad Resurgendum cum Christo, “Regarding the Burial of the Deceased and the Conservation of the Ashes in the Case of Cremation.” The Instruction does not teach anything all that new, but it reminds us of things that many may have forgotten, especially in view of the current popularity of the untraditional option of cremation. Thus, regarding burial:

Following the most ancient Christian tradition, the Church insistently recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places.

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”

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.

Concerning cremation:

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.


the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted. … the ashes may not be divided among various family members and due respect must be maintained regarding the circumstances of such a conservation.

In order that every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided, 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.

When the deceased notoriously has requested cremation and the scattering of their ashes for reasons contrary to the Christian faith, a Christian funeral must be denied to that person according to the norms of the law.

This represents a timely restatement of what, not too long ago, would have been the common Christian understanding, but now needs apparently to be restated due to our culture's increasing acceptance of secular and neo-pagan, post-Christan beliefs and practices about death - beliefs and practices which are dangerously infecting attitudes even within faithful Christian communities..

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