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2016 Vatican Instruction on Cremation

1. What is your sentiment on the Vatican's new document on Christian burial and cremation? 

We welcome and follow the new document on Christian burial and cremation because the remains of a deceased person must be treated properly and with utmost respect based on our faith.  

2. How will the Church deal with those who have already scattered their relatives' ashes?

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. An anonymous burial or scattering of ashes is not compatible with the Christian faith. The name, the person, the concrete identity of the person is important because God created each person and calls each person to Himself. His Eminence Gerhard Cardinal Müller of the CDF suggests that cremated remains that were already scattered must have a memorial which includes the name of the deceased. He also said that labeling an urn or tomb in a public place is an expression of belief in the communion of saints, the unending unity in Christ of all the baptized, living and dead.

3. Will the Church issue an official decree or law on the said issue?

Here is the the link of the new Instruction Ad Resurgendum cum Christo (To rise with Christ)  issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF):

4. How will the Church in the Philippines promulgate or inform the faithful of the guidelines?

Since 2001 the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has already issued a guideline (SEE http://www.oocities.org/barats2000/cremation.html) which was affirmed by the new formal pronouncement of the CDF. It is based on the 1963 Vatican Instruction. Therefore, the ‘new’ instruction is a reiteration, an underscoring of the previous document, and has been promulgated since the 1960s.

5. What are the "approved sacred places" where families can store the ashes of their loved ones?
The cremated remains should be buried in a grave, mausoleum, or columbarium. Furthermore, the new document states that “burial in a cemetery or another sacred place adequately corresponds to the piety and respect owed to the bodies of the faithful departed who through Baptism have become temples of the Holy Spirit and in which as instruments and vessels the Spirit has carried out so many good works.”

According to the new guidelines, burial is still preferred, but cremation is an option. When a loved one has been cremated, their ashes must be kept intact, the same as one would treat a body. The ashes may not be separated or scattered. Instead, they should remain in a proper vessel that is interred in a proper place, such as a cemetery or church. Only the bishop can authorize an exception to this storage requirement in extraordinary circumstances. 

6. The Church has previously banned cremation. What prompted the Church to allow this practice?

The Vatican didn’t allow cremation until 1963, when the Church deemed it permissible as long as it didn’t suggest a denial of faith about resurrection.

The old 1917 Code of Canon Law expressly prohibited the practice of cremating cadavers due to the belief from the early days of Christianity that “cremation of cadavers was considered anti-Christian, while inhumation (or burial in the earth) was deemed as the normal Christian practice.”
The reason for this Christian tradition in favor of burial stems from the latter’s strong religious symbolism, made more evident by its concordance with Sacred Scripture and its long practice in the Christian community. The paschal meaning of Christian death—faith in the resurrection of the body: that one day all the saints will rise from the dead for eternal glory, as Jesus Christ has risen from the dead—is better expressed with the burial of the cadaver.

7. What prompted the Vatican to release the said guidelines?
The instruction Ad Resurgendum cum Christo reiterates the Church’s long-held preference that the dead be buried rather than cremated although it has “no doctrinal objection” to the latter. Cremation is only forbidden if it is undertaken for reasons contrary to the Church’s teaching.

The CDF said that there are new age ideas which have taken hold in modern times. People have come to see scattering of their ashes as allowing a "fusion" of them with nature, or that death is a form of liberation from the body. These ideas are new age ideas and are not Catholic. Ashes cannot be scattered because it gives the appearance of "pantheism, naturalism, or nihilism." 

8. How relevant is the Vatican guidelines in the Philippine context? Have you received reports on families scattering the ashes of their loved ones?

We have not received any reports yet of families scattering the cremated remains of their loved ones. The Vatican Instruction is very importatnt amid the increasing tendency of Filipinos to choose cremation over the traditional Christian practice of burying dead bodies. The Catholic Church earnestly recommends burial but also allows cremation without any reserve. The 1983 Code of Canon Law states that “The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (Can. 1176, §3).

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