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Why I understand the Catholic Church’s stance on scattering ashes

There are a number of people and organisations that have been getting rather hot under the collar about the recent instruction from the Vatican clarifying the Catholic Church’s position on the scattering ashes and the fact that they  do not like it, or splitting ashes, or jewellery containing ashes, so on and so forth. There are those who think that the church is doing it to increase revenue – I would disagree. There are certain sections of the Hindu faith who think it is inflammatory – I don’t think it has anything to do with Hindus or Hinduism.  This instruction is only for it’s followers; they do not expect those of other beliefs to adhere or even agree with it.

You might expect us to be up in arms shouting about this: liberty of choice, ‘don’t you tell me what to do’, etc. etc. Not so. The Catholic Churches should tell its faithful in what it believes are the correct death rituals, that is part of its purpose: to instruct people as to what course of action it considers is the closest in alignment to biblical teachings.

I can also see the rationale for this intervention, in their opinion the evolution of death rites are departing from their desired approach. They consider these trends to be diverging from scripture and leaning towards ‘pantheism, naturalism or nihilism‘ (their words, not mine). Furthermore, unless I have misunderstood something along the way – Catholicism is different to Protestantism in several ways, but one core difference is that interpretation of God’s meaning comes from the top, the Pope has a greater understanding of the Almighty’s meaning than the cardinals and so on down the line. Protestantism allows its followers to have more of a one to one to one relationship with God. So central control of the faith is very much in line with the ethos.

Let’s also be clear, the Vatican has not changed its stance – it has always been thus. As far as I can see the main distinction of this instruction compared to previous missives is the explanation of ‘why’ people shouldn’t scatter. It always seemed to me that the reason they didn’t like scattering ashes is because the body should be kept whole for the day of resurrection, where now the reasoning is more to with scattering being against tradition and shows less devotion to the faith. I am thinking that the previous reasoning was less than satisfactory because (a) as God is omnipotent, the resurrection of the body in whatever form should not present a problem, and (b) if someone were to die horribly in say a plane crash then they would be no less likely to resurrected than anyone else.

The people I have sympathy for are precisely the people the Vatican is intending to target: the faithful who have a slightly different interpretation God’s meaning than they do  – people that are comfortable with their faith and scattering ashes too. For example: a partner whose loved one’s ashes are scattered on a hillside somewhere and they wish to join them there when they pass away. This could lead to huge anxiety, the pull between love and faith, which should be entirely intertwined

This is made worse  by the penalty for non-compliance, ’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.’

I am not sure I can translate this effectively, so using the example above. If you don’t make a fuss and tell your son or daughter what you want, and don’t write it down, and tell them it is to do with proximity to a loved one and not done so to cock-a-snoop at the church – then they should be okay… (ummm, wishful thinking  on my part?).

Also the denial of a christian funeral, surely this is only a Roman Catholic christian funeral? A member of protestant C of E clergy wouldn’t feel bound by this, and family could ask them… help think I am well outside my depth here? Okay so perhaps ‘I understand‘ their position is stretching it a bit far …

4 thoughts on “Why I understand the Catholic Church’s stance on scattering ashes

  1. Reply
    Bill Gerard - 24th October 2022

    I don’t understand the church’s position and the fact that they had always been against cremation and then changed their minds, leads me to believe that they don’t know what is what. To keep WHAT body intact? There IS NO body. The body either decomposes into ashes or is cremated into ashes. The ashes themselves, are just an object at that point. There is no human body left and there is no spirit, no person, no soul there. The person you knew is gone and leaves behind that body so if the church was wrong and corrected themselves and said gee, yeah cremation is not a big deal then they can be wrong on other things. Certain sects try to push this desecration narrative but they are probably just being paid off by the funeral homes and cemeteries.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 24th October 2022

      Strong opinions Bill – well articulated.
      Kind regards

  2. Reply
    Patrick - 20th June 2022

    According to scripture and I mean early enough that even an 8 year old can get that far, God made 1 human from dirt and 1 from the dirt man’s rib, and according to Jewish oral tradition Lilith was also made from dirt. The idea that Catholic tradition was against spreading ashes or Jewlery because the remains, remain in tact is very blasphemous to me at face value.

    So does that mean God would have a hard time if a small child got mauled by tigers at the zoo and only portions of him remained? I could see that causing severe anxiety or trauma to those that remain. I don’t see a problem with scattering ashes. Maybe a portion at one location so that you could have a place to go, and the rest scattered in homage and to let them be free after death.

    I dunno it just feels like those closest to God are blaspheming them when they say that the being that created the whole world, all the animals, and humankind from scratch in 7 days, would be thwarted by a glass object with a small portion of dust, but that seems like it’d be worse if someone did get mauled because those proteins become part of a cat afterward, so would he have to resurrect the tigers that ate a child because the child became part of the tiger? Well it doesn’t have to be tigers per say. I mean same theory applies to someone who dies in a hoarding situation and is eaten by rats, mice, or I guess worms underground would be the same issue. Seems like they are calling Yahweh weak.

    These guys are paid to do pretty much nothing but understand their version of God. Is God really that weak compared to his golden days? Or is some random dude more able to understand the glory of such a God than professional worshipers?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 22nd June 2022

      Thank you for that articulate response Patrick, I too felt the the Church’s stance didn’t really reflect the general omnipotent nature of god. However as this is not my belief system then I felt it was not my place.

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