What do Catholics believe about death?
The Bible is clear that resurrection is a reality and this life is not all that there is. While death is the end of physical life, it is not the end of human existence.
Many Catholics believe that cremation will prevent resurrection of the body, and therefore prefer a traditional burial. But what is the Church’s stance on this? Does the Catholic Church allow cremation?
Since 1973 the Church has permitted cremation and taught that the human body’s cremation is not a sinful act.
The short answer is yes. The Catholic Church permits cremation.
Let’s dive into the details.
Roman Catholic Views Of Death
Roman Catholics are members of the Christian religion who believe in the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Catholics believe that Christ’s body was resurrected after his death on the cross, and that all Christians will be resurrected to eternal life.
What Does The Bible Say About Burial And Cremation?
There is only one biblical example that relates to cremation.
Eliezer is said to have taken his father’s bones “and burned them upon the great pyre,” an act that was likely done in Ur where burning bodies had been customary for centuries before Judaism arrived on the scene as it would’ve made little sense if they weren’t already accustomed to cremation.
And what does the Bible say about keeping ashes, if anything? Not really — however, the Church is against keeping or scattering the ashes, despite the change in the Catholic view on cremation since 1973.
Guidance On Treating The Dead
When it comes to catholic teaching on cremation, that’s pretty much it — Christian doctrine does not explicitly mention cremation, but it does speak about treating the dead.
Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says that if a person is executed on God’s command, then “you shall surely bury him in your field; you shall not cover his corpse with a stone.”
Leviticus 19:28 asks people to be respectful of their loved ones before death and after death by being careful not to touch or do anything indecent around them and burning any clothing which has touched the deceased body as well as burying those ashes. The same law applies when there are animal carcasses involved (see verses 29-31).
This may indicate an early Jewish acceptance of cremation among those who didn’t have access to land to bury the dead.
What Does Canon Law Say?
The Catholic Church has a set of laws called the “Canon law.” The church can change its teachings, but not the Canon law.
Cremation does not violate any Roman Catholic doctrine.
There are no grounds for declaring that those who choose cremation over burial (or traditional funeral) are in mortal sin by doing so.
Cremation Has Grown In Popularity
There has been an uptick in cremations in recent years in the U.S. How often do Catholics cremate? Not as often as American population overall.
62% of Americans were cremated in 2019, and that figure is expected to rise to 78% by 2025.
The percentage is even higher among younger generations: 89% say they want to be cremated when they die, and just 11% say they prefer burial.
Funeral Affordability Is The Issue
This is primarily due to the decreasing affordability of traditional funerals vs. cremation (in both time and money).
The national average funeral cost is $10,557, once you add up the costs of the burial plot, the casket or coffin, the headstone (or grave marker), funeral home reservation, and the embalming of the dead body, among many others.
Not too many people have $10,000 to spare these days.
Do Catholics Believe In Cremation?
The stance of Catholic Church on cremation and catholicism might surprise many, as the Church does not forbid cremation practices in any way. In fact, it now permits cremation as a respectful disposition of a human person or her soul.
In 1973, Pope Paul VI’s declaration on cremation lifted any restriction in Roman Catholicism from earlier burial instructions published.
Catholic teaching now permits its use and regards it as a pious custom that confers the same respect on the deceased as does traditional burial.
According to Catechism, paragraph 2398: “there are absolutely no grounds for declaring that those who choose this way of honoring their dead are in a state of mortal sin”.
Catholics And Cremation: Is There Opposition?
Some believers have opposed cremation in Catholicism in recent years because they think ashes scattered or buried might make people less inclined to believe that their human body will be resurrected. Most theologians now consider this argument obsolete.
This does not mean that all Catholics agree with cremation. A 2015 Pew Research Poll found that about half of all Catholics favor cremation over burial, while others prefer traditional burial.
Guidance On Cremation Remains
The rules of cremation in the Catholic Church are simple. There are strict guidance on how to handle a loved one’s ashes:
- The Church requires that the cremated remains (ashes) not be handled by family members.
- It also does not want them present in day-to-day life, so the Church doesn’t want a catholic keeping ashes at home in an urn in your home or within “cremation jewelry.”
- Per Catholic rules on cremation, the Church forbids the scattering of cremated remains.
The Church Recommends A Final Resting Place
The Church earnestly recommends that cremated remains be given a final resting place, just like the physical body in burial.
The Catholic Church teaches that burying the ashes of a loved one in the family’s burial plot is not only permitted but encouraged.
If there is no room left in the family gravesite, it recommends depositing them with respect (e.g., in an urn garden or columbarium). The urn can then be placed on the family gravesite to honor those resting there and create new memories for future generations.
Catholicism And Cremation: FAQs
What Is A Catholic Cemetery?
Catholic cemeteries are designed for those who practice the Catholic faith, not all people. They may be owned or operated by a parish, and they will have restrictions on who can be buried there partly because of the cost to maintain them.
What Is A Funeral Liturgy?
A funeral liturgy is a ceremony in which the Church honors and commemorates someone who has died. This includes praying for them, praising their lives, and remembering all they have done (positively or negatively). The Church also recognizes that it’s essential to allow people to mourn before starting afresh after death.
What Is A Catholic Funeral Mass Like?
Funeral services in the Catholic Church begin when someone dies; it continues until the final rites are complete. Christian funerals are a celebration of the person’s life and faith. It includes praying for them, praising their lives, remembering all they have done (positively or negatively), and giving thanks to God for this time on earth that has come to an end. The Mass is not about telling people how to grieve but honoring the deceased with dignity while also acknowledging that death can be painful.
Do Catholics Get Cremated?
Catholics can choose to be cremated or buried. The Catholic Church does not forbid cremation, but does require that the ashes of the cremated be buried in consecrated ground.
Why Don't Catholics Believe In Cremation?
Previously, the Catholic Church opposed cremation because it saw it as a pagan practice. In ancient Rome, cremation was used to dispose of dead bodies because there was no way to preserve them. When Christianity spread throughout Europe, burial became the preferred method, as it was seen as more respectful to the deceased.
So, what are the thoughts of Catholic Church on cremation? Can Catholics be cremated, and — more importantly — is getting cremated a sin?
The answer is no. Catholics are perfectly within the Church’s rules if they want to get cremated or have someone they love cremated.
However, it will be interesting to see if the younger generation of Catholics prefers cremation over burial as a method of final disposition.
We hope not, but in decades, burial may be rare, with cemeteries seen as a relic of the past.
In any case, we hope that this guide answered your questions on cremation and Catholic Church. For more Bible-related questions, we highly recommend GotQuestions.org.
The GetSure Team