Burying the dead goes back to theÂ early Christian times. The early Catholic Church openly forbid cremation for centuries because of theÂ belief thatÂ the bodyÂ is a temple of the Holy Spirit.Â Cremation wasÂ seenÂ as aÂ pagan practice that denied the doctrine and faithÂ in resurrection. Early Catholicism viewed burial as a symbolÂ of Â hope for resurrection, as well as a continuanceÂ of early Christian traditions.
The Church once used very strict rules for funeral services and sacraments in the event of cremation. The Church did not allow cremated remains (also known as cremains) to be present in the church during the celebration of mass or any prayer vigil. The body had to be present for all services before cremation.
The Order of Catholic Funerals was three separate, and ideally, sequential rites to celebrate the end of one’s lifeÂ in theÂ flesh, and the beginning of a new one in spirit:
- Prayer Vigil – a short prayer service that takes place during the time immediately following death.
- Mass – a celebration in the funeral liturgy.
- Rite of Committal – another short prayer service held at the cemetery or place of internment.
The ideal sequence of the three is: the vigil, funeral mass and thenÂ theÂ rite of committal.
In 1997, the Vatican granted permission for cremated remains to be present for mass andÂ rite of committal, making Catholic cremation more openly available to families in need. The Church still recommends traditional burial. However, Catholic cremation has quickly gained popularity, and is seemingly necessary for many Catholic families. The reasons for cremation differ, but cost is by far the most common.
Keeping with The Church’sÂ traditions of the sacredness ofÂ human life, there are still strict rules on the sanctity of human ashes:
- The cremated human remains (cremains) shouldn’t be scattered, divided among family or kept at a home.
- CremainsÂ should be treated with respect, and laid to rest in a cemetery, either inÂ a grave or mausoleum.
ï»¿According to the Cremation Association of North America cremation rates in the United States have risen from 5% (from nearly 20 years ago) to 39-45% as of 2008. It is estimated that Catholic cremation has risen to approximately 15-20% in the last ten years.
Special Thank you to Shehan365 For the beautiful picture via Flickr.