A voice from the grave

I suppose one’s gravestone is sort of a preview of what follows below.

Rodney Dangerfield’s stone says, There goes the neighborhood. Another monument, dated Oct. 10, 1887, told of a grim outcome, Here lies Byron Vickers – Second fastest draw in New Austin.

Speaking of graves, are you planning on being cremated or resting in your personal pinewood box or residing in a mausoleum? Perhaps you would prefer the Ted Williams’ method of cryonics? Cryonics is when they freeze human beings in the hope that they will be brought back to life in the future when those technologies exist. If successful, that promises a second chance at life.

Do you know what the Catholic Church teaches concerning cremation? One should not desire to dump Uncle Frank’s ashes into the Missouri River because he loved to fish there.

The old Code of Canon Law (1917) prohibited cremation and required the bodies of the faithful to be buried. Again, an exception was given in times of mass death and the threat of disease. Those individuals who had directed their bodies to be cremated were denied ecclesiastical burial. In 1963, the church clarified this regulation, prohibiting cremation for anyone who wanted it simply as some testimony against the faith, such as a denial of the Resurrection.

The new Code of Canon Law (1983) stipulates: “The church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (No. 1176, 3). Therefore, a person may choose to be cremated if he has the right intention. However, the cremated remains must be treated with respect and should be interred in a grave or mausoleum.

Question from Jeanne Wysocki on 12/20/2001 about John F Kennedy, Jr.:

“Hello, please correct me if I am wrong, but, I thought that cremation is ok for Catholics now, but I thought that the ashes were supposed to be contained and buried, not scattered out to sea or on land. Why then was John Kennedy Jr’s ashes scattered out to sea? Was the family granted special permission? I’m sure there was a priest present when this occurred. Was this done against church teaching or am I wrong? Thank you for your help and answer.”

Answer by Bill Bilton on 12/20/2001:

“The church has always accorded the body great reverence after death (thus, incensing the body during the Mass of Christian Burial) because that body is made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27) and a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Having said this, the church requires that the cremated ashes be handled with the same dignity that the body would be. Scattering of ashes is clearly not permitted. From what I was able to learn, at the time of John F. Kennedy Jr.’s death, the priest gave permission, although he could not base that permission on any documentation stronger than his own desire to be of service to the family. At the time there was even a statement explaining the fact that scattering is against the wishes and dictates of the church posted on the web site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

While cremated remains may be buried in a grave, entombed in a mausoleum or even buried at sea, “the practice 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” (OCF 416).  The cremated remains of the body may be properly buried at sea in the urn, coffin or other container in which they have been carried to the place of committal.

One of the Corporal Works of Mercy is bury the dead. The church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the dead be observed. The church requires that the cremated ashes be handled with the same dignity that the body would be.

We pray, grant him/her peace and tranquility until that day when he/she and all who believe in you will be raised to the glory of new life.

Father Dennis Meinen serves as chaplain at Holy Spirit Retirement Home, Sioux City, for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the diocese and Calix for Siouxland, and Faithful Friar of the Garrigan 4th Degree Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, Sioux City.


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