The Catholic church seems intent ion creating rules based on convoluted doctrinal reasoning that its followers are likely to ignore. The latest involves cremation, a practice allowed by the church in 1963 and that is increasingly favored by people over burial. The issue is what to do with the ashes. Up to now, people have had the freedom to choose, according to the wishes of the deceased or of the relatives of the deceased. This has led to some unusual methods of disposal.
In the United States, cremations have taken on a highly personalized and commercial aspect. Companies offer to load cremains into shotgun shells so that family members can take them on turkey hunts. Nature lovers ask that their ashes be scattered under a favorite tree or inserted into coral reefs. Cremains can be shot into space, or refashioned as diamonds.
But the church has decided that such methods, or even keeping them in an urn at home or scattering at sea, are sacrilegious and has specified the only appropriate ways.
According to new guidelines from the Vatican’s doctrinal office, cremated remains should be kept in a “sacred place” such as a church cemetery. Ashes should not be divided up between family members, “nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects.”
Why? The Catholic News Service explains the reasoning. It involves preserving the idea that the body will one day be resurrected, while dispersal of the ashes suggests “attitudes and rites that see in death the definitive obliteration of the person”.
However, the Catholic Church wholeheartedly recommends continuing the “pious practice of burying the dead,” Cardinal Muller said. It is considered one of the corporal works of mercy and, mirroring the burial of Christ, it more clearly expresses hope in the resurrection when the person’s body and soul will be reunited.
In addition, he said, when a person is buried in the ground — and, at least to some extent — when the urn of the person’s ashes is placed in a columbarium or tomb, the final resting place is marked with the person’s name, the same name with which the person was baptized and by which the person is called by God.
Keeping ashes at home on the mantel, he said, is a sign not only of love and grief, but also of not understanding how the loved one belonged to the entire community of faith and not just to his or her closest relatives.
“Only in grave and exceptional cases,” the instruction says, local bishops may give permission for ashes to be kept in a private home. Cardinal Muller said it was not up to him, but to local and national bishops’ conferences to determine what those “grave and exceptional” circumstances might be.
Placing the ashes in a sacred place also “prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten or their remains from being shown a lack of respect,” which is more likely to happen as time goes on and the people closest to the deceased also pass way, the instruction said.
This idea that commemorating the location of the ashes will preserve the memory of the dead person is absurd. All of us will be forgotten after a few generations. Having our name etched on a stone in some graveyard or mausoleum will not prevent that.
This new rule will be seen by many Catholics as yet another attempt by the church to butt into the private lives of people, and will likely be ignored the same way they ignore the rules forbidding the use of contraception.