“My husband died recently and was cremated. I’ve been told that I cannot keep the urn at home until I die, so that we can be buried together. Why?” — Oshkosh
It is increasingly common for individuals or families to choose cremation as part of funeral planning. The reasons are many, but include a perception of lower cost, ecological friendliness or personal preference. However, with the increased frequency come pastoral challenges regarding the cremated remains and the respect we owe as Christians to the remains of our deceased loved ones.
It is important to note that our church still prefers the burial of bodies of the dead. The reason is our faith in the resurrection of the body. The symbolism in bodily burial is the most fitting way to express our faith and hope in the resurrection of our bodies at the end of the world. This is more difficult to recognize when only ashes are present. However, cremation is still permitted, as long as it is not chosen for reasons contrary to our faith.
With the sad reality, in many families, of children or grandchildren no longer professing to be Christians, has come a return to some pagan ideas and practices. These include the belief that death results in the complete annihilation of the person, or is the final fusion of body and soul with the universe, or even that the soul is liberated from the prison of the body. With these erroneous ideas has come the decline in burial or interment of cremated remains.
Now, for obvious reasons, a body needs to be buried. These reasons, however, are much less pressing with an urn filled with ashes. Today, ashes of loved ones are often set on a mantelpiece or bookcase, scattered about the lawn, divided among relatives, fused into jewelry, or even used for superstitious or occult practices. Inevitably, as time passes, these ashes are forgotten, discovered by the family dog or thrown away as garbage.
As Catholics, we believe otherwise. By the burial of the bodies of the dead, or the interment of cremated remains in a cemetery or other sacred place, we demonstrate our respect for the remains of our ones who, through baptism, were born again in Jesus Christ and became temples of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, when we bury or inter remains in a cemetery or other sacred place, we encourage others to visit, pray for their souls and remember them. It is only in such a sacred place that the remains of our loved ones can be reverenced and protected forever.
With the death of a loved one there is an understandable desire to keep the cremated remains nearby – even in the home. However, I urge you to reconsider and find a cemetery for these remains. The future is difficult to predict. Who can say what will happen to the urn when you die? You hope and wish for it to be buried with you, but will that actually happen? Further, family and friends who wish to go to the cemetery now and make a visit to your husband’s grave cannot do so. With all of this, and our church’s strong and consistent teaching on this, I urge you to do the right thing and bury or inter the remains of your loved one soon.
Fr. Girotti is vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Green Bay.