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A Life Worth Remembering
As a Catholic may I be cremated?
YES. In May 1963, the Vatican's Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith) lifted the prohibition forbidding Catholics to choose cremation. This permission was incorporated into the revised Code of Canon Law of 1983 (Canon #1176), as well as into the Order of Christian Funerals. It, then became standard practice to celebrate the funeral liturgies with the body and then take the body to the crematorium. Most recently the bishops of the United States and the Holy See have authorized the celebration of a Catholic funeral liturgy with the cremated remains when the body is cremated before the funeral.
Do I need to ask permission to be cremated?
NO, but it is a good idea to discuss your reasons with your pastor or other parish minister.
When should cremation take place?
The Church prefers that cremation take place after the full funeral liturgy with the body. However, in the American culture, cremation often takes place immediately or soon after death. "Sometimes, however, it is not possible for the body to be present for the Funeral Mass. When extraordinary circumstances make the cremation of a body the only feasible choice, pastoral sensitivity must be exercised by all who minister to the family of the deceased." (Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix II)
Is it necessary to embalm?
When cremation follows the funeral liturgy, embalming is usually necessary. When cremation is to follow soon after death, embalming is not necessary. Each state has it owns regulations in this matter, but generally the rule is that a deceased human body that is not buried or cremated within 24 or 48 hours is to be embalmed or refrigerated. However, simple embalming and the use of a cremation casket need not involve excessive costs.
Is it necessary to purchase a casket?
NO, it is not necessary to purchase a casket for cremation. The only thing required is a simple container in which the body can be transported and placed in the cremation chamber. If you choose to have the body present for Mass, with cremation to follow, rental is an option. Many funeral directors offer regular caskets, for rent, as well as the special cremation or shell caskets which you may purchase.
What is the proper container for cremated remains?
Appropriate, worthy containers (not necessarily expensive) such as a classic urn are proper for the cremated remains. At the present time the U.S. Bishops'Committee on the Liturgy has determined only what is not a proper container. Although jewelry, dishes, statuary and space capsules are examples of designer containers now being offered, they are unacceptable in Catholic funeral practices. It is also unacceptable to have your cremated remains made into jewelry, dishes and the like.
How are cremated remains transported?
Transportation of cremated remains is a matter of personal choice. Individuals personally carrying a deceased person's ashes will often have the added responsibility of packing and transporting the urn. Using the principle of respect for the body, you may wrap the container of cremated remains with the possibility of sending it as accompanying baggage or take it along as carry-on luggage. Some states do regulate the transport of cremated remains. Ask the airline office or the state's Department of Public Health for specific information about your region of travel before preparing the cremated remains for transport by air. When no legal regulations exist regarding transport of cremated remains, most cremationists ship cremated remains in a standard shipping container by U.S. Mail, UPS or other common carriers.
Must cremated remains be buried/entombed?
YES. Respectful final disposition of cremated remains involves interment or entombment. Burial options include a family grave in a cemetery marked with a traditional memorial stone or an urn garden, a special section in a cemetery with small, pre-dug graves for urns. Read an article about improper handling of cremated remains.
What is a columbarium?
A common practice is the entombment of the cremated remains in a "columbarium." It is an arrangement of niches, either in a mausoleum, a room or wall into which an urn or other worthy vessel is placed for permanent memorial.
May I scatter the ashes?
NO. "The practices of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires." (Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix II)
May I bury the ashes at sea?
YES. Burial at sea of cremated remains differs from scattering. An appropriate and worthy container, heavy enough to be sent to its final resting place, may be dropped into the sea. The burial of cremated remains at sea in this manner seems to be an appropriate alternative to the long-standing and revered custom of a traditional burial at sea. Please consult your local government for environmental regulations (See Order of Christian Funerals, #405.4)
May anything be added to cremated remains such as the cremated remains of other persons, pets, other objects?
The principle of respect for the cremated remains of a deceased Christian embraces the deeper belief in the individuality of each baptized person before God. Throughout history, the mingling of remains has never been an accepted practice, except in extraordinary circumstances.
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