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What do Catholic the Church think about ashes

The Catholic Church: cremation, cremated remains and scattering ashes

Previous postings have referred to the Catholic Church requiring the burying or interring of a loved ones ashes, very recently I came across this very comprehensive article explaining why. I have copied in full and the author has been credited at the bottom it a) it is well written, b) concise c) well referenced, and finally d) fascinating.

However for those is a rush, basically the body is not just a carrier of the soul it is as important as the soul, so the Catholic Church would prefer the body to be intact (i.e. burial), cremation is fine so long as it is not to done deny that person’s belief.  And don’t split or scatter the ashes as this would separate the body. So here is the article:

What The Church Teaches About Cremation

A Catholic interviewer recently asked Emilio Estevez why his new movie “The Way,” which is so respectfully full of Catholic imagery, has its main character (Martin Sheen) scattering the ashes of his son, a practice forbidden by Church law? Estevez answered that the “character of Tom is a lapsed Catholic. He wouldn’t be formed in canon law.”

Sheen’s character may have a reasonable excuse, but not so the rest of us. What does the Catholic Church teach about cremation, and why?

The short answer about cremation is that a Catholic may be cremated, so long as the reason for doing so is not contrary to the Catholic faith—though the church does prefer a traditional burial (Code of Canon Law, 1176, Section 3). The remains are to be entombed or interred in a cemetery or columbarium, and are not to be scattered or rest in a person’s house or be split between several people or be fused into jewellery.

Let’s back up and look at the why.

Every single teaching of the Catholic faith, no matter how minute, is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth … God created man in his image …” (Gen 1:1, 27a). Human beings, body and soul, were always designed to be images of his divine being. Centuries later, when the Word was made flesh (Jn 1:14), human and divine were fused permanently. When our Lord suffered and died on the cross, he defeated death for all mankind, because God died, in his humanity. When he rose from the dead, he was not a ghost but fully human, with a human body—glorified and perfected, but authentic, as evidenced by his apostles touching his hands and side (Lk 24:38-40; Jn 20:24-29), and by the food he ate with them (Lk 24:41-43; Jn 21:13-14). It was not his spirit alone that was resurrected, but his body with his soul, united just as he was before his death. When his time to visit his apostles on earth was again completed, he did not die but ascended into heaven. He who came down to earth a spiritual God ascended into heaven both body and spirit.

Heaven is not a place where we turn into angels or our spirits float around lazily. In heaven, the second Person of the Holy Trinity is bodily present, and we will worship him with our spirits united to our glorified bodies.

It is because of our Lord’s incarnation that we are to respect our bodies. Our bodies are not mere casings for our souls. Quite the contrary: our bodies are every bit as much a part of us as our souls are.

The church has always preferred the burial of the body to cremation because “in baptism the body was marked with the seal of the Trinity and became the temple of the Holy Spirit …” (Order of Christian Funerals, 19). Still, cremation has long been allowed for legitimate reasons (in ancient times, this usually meant war or plague—many corpses together with hygienic concerns).

In the late 19th century, however, the practice of choosing cremation specifically to deny belief in the church’s teachings (including the resurrection of the body) rose to popularity, and so in 1886 the church banned cremation. In 1963, however, it was realized that most cremations are chosen for neutral reasons like cost and mobility, and so the ban was lifted, with the caveat above.

In most cases, cremation should be done after the funeral, for the same body that was baptized and anointed and has received Communion should be honoured as we pray for our beloved dead. However, the dioceses of the United States do have special permission from the Vatican to celebrate a funeral Mass in the presence of cremated remains, if the cremation must be done first.

Because the cremated remains are truly the body of the deceased, they are to be treated with the same respect as the body would be. Just as we would honour a person’s physical body by giving it a permanent resting place, so too do we honour the remains of a person who’s been cremated by giving their remains a permanent resting place.


Published: October 13, 2011

Claire Gilligan is the associate director of the Archdiocese Office of Divine Worship.


13 thoughts on “The Catholic Church: cremation, cremated remains and scattering ashes

  1. Reply
    Tom - 11th August 2021

    I thought it was all about your soul.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 11th August 2021

      Hi Tom
      There appears to be more to it than that…

  2. Reply
    virginia francisco apolinario - 2nd February 2021

    i had my son cremated because it had to be done due to the circumstances. I kept it in an urn and will be kept in the altar at my house. What can you say? Please advice.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 2nd February 2021

      Dear Virginia
      I am unqualified to give you the interpretation of the Catholic Church, my advice if you which to be in strict adherence would be to ask your local priest for his guidance.
      Kind regards

  3. Reply
    Kathy - 2nd May 2020

    The father said that your body returns to the ground as dirt were it came from in creation time. The body is lifeless until the breath of life has been given. When you die your breath aka spirit, also known as an angel go back to the heavens aka home. Humans are Angel’s created out of love. What is this crapola?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 5th May 2020

      Hi Kathy, I would say – It is simply another way of looking at the world.
      I must say I hadn’t come across the word ‘crapola’ before. I looked it up: interesting, it is always good to expand ones vocabulary…

  4. Reply
    Ken - 22nd August 2018

    Please save the foul language for the bar ! All religions are precious . Faith is a must . May we ALL Rest In Peace when our time may come ! God loves us !!!!!!!

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 3rd September 2018

      Dear Ken
      Thank you for your input

  5. Reply
    John - 5th August 2018

    Nothing like the Catholic church trying to limit the power of God! He knows every hair on your head. Therefore every particle of your being. Quit putting God in a box. Bodies are nothing but bones in a matter of months.. Are there a bunch of skeletons running around Heaven?

  6. Reply
    Excatholic - 5th July 2017

    A real bullshit response. The Catholic Church is all about control. Don’t let these perverted child molesters make you do anything you don’t want to go. Don’t listen to them and instead follow your heart and your conscience.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 5th July 2017

      A little harsh perhaps, but thank you for your input. In my approach, I try to be neutral and compassionate. I don’t believe that I should challenge or attempt to influence anybody else’s belief or faith, I consider it to be wholly a personal matter. If I took a more didactic approach it would imply I had more knowledge of the unknown than others – which I don’t.

  7. Reply
    Debbie - 25th June 2017

    My mum’s ashes were divided into three by my half sisters. Will my mum find peace?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 26th June 2017

      I have no doubt your mum will find peace. If you are anyway concerned I would speak to a priest who is more understanding in such matters. I hope this helps.

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