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Remember, Man, You are Dust
Part one of this title explained the history of the reason Holy Mother Church banned cremation. Although there is no longer a ban, the Church maintains the importance of our natural bodies and the reverence thereof after death.
Bishop Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin reminds us that our bodies are heaven-bound. They will one day be glorified, as taught in 1 Corinthians 15: 42-44. He explains that the body’s destiny is heaven, not the grave. “We’re not disposing of the body in the grave…we’re allowing it to rest in order to have it raised up,” he said. “God has further use of that body. It is not a throw-away.”1 These teachings are only understood in the shadow of the second coming.
The Catholic understanding and practice of preparing a body for burial comes to us from Jewish tradition. This is called the Tahara, a simple, yet dignified ritual that allows the person to meet his or her Maker with the utmost respect and dignity. 2The Tahara ritual includes cleansing, washing and dressing. Sound familiar?
Finally, how the remains of someone are handled goes far to the expression of respect. If we do not do something to a body, we should not with cremains. We would not leave Grandpa in the living room in a casket, so we should not leave his urn on the mantle. We would not cut pieces of Mom to make jewelry with, so we should not with her ashes. We would not dismember Uncle Frank and spread him throughout the land, so we should not with his cremains. The Church is quite clear on the disposition of remains:
5. When, for legitimate motives, cremation of the body has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery or, in certain cases, in a church or an area, which has been set aside for this purpose, and so dedicated by the competent ecclesial authority.
6. … the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted. … the ashes may not be divided among various family members and due respect must be maintained regarding the circumstances of such a conservation.
7. In order that every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided, it is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewellery [sic] or other objects. These courses of action cannot be legitimised [sic] by an appeal to the sanitary, social, or economic motives that may have occasioned the choice of cremation. 3
Because we continue to remember our deceased loved ones in our memories and prayers, having a place we can visit is important to aid in our continuous healing. Likewise, a grave or mausoleum with a tombstone or marker helps to keep us grounded in the understanding that one day Christ will come and our loved ones, as well as we will rise from our graves with our glorified bodies to live again on the new earth. One hundred years from now, if this has not yet happened, people will visit our graves and know that a person precious in the sight of God is buried there, will offer a prayer for our souls, and will look forward to seeing us again in the second coming.
3 Instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation, 25.10.2016
- Tiffany J Gallozzi
Remember Man, You Are Dust – Part 1
When planning a burial we are faced with the question of casket or cremation. Catholics are very aware that Holy Mother Church, until fairly recently, did not permit cremation. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that a shift was made.
Although Catholics know it was not an option, most cannot explain why. Historically, pagans did not believe in the resurrection of the body, believed in re-incarnation, and insisted death the end so reverencing a body was pointless. They cremated their dead to prove their theological point. In order to keep theological differences separate, early Christians in Rome buried their dead in the catacombs outside the city walls. Therefore, if a Catholic chose to be cremated it was seen as a loss of hope in the resurrection of the body and/or a scoffing at a fundamental belief of the faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the issue in a single sentence: “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body” (no. 2301).
The rise of cremation since the Church lifted the ban is due mostly to cost and, in some cases of family plots, space. The Church still considers body burial the preferred practice; if cremation is to take place She favors the body present at the funeral. Canon law gives some insight as well.
§1. Deceased members of the Christian faithful must be given ecclesiastical funerals according to the norm of law.
§2. Ecclesiastical funerals, by which the Church seeks spiritual support for the deceased, honors their bodies, and at the same time brings the solace of hope to the living, must be celebrated according to the norm of the liturgical laws.
§3. The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.
Bishop Robert Morlino had a study executed in Madison, Wisconsin and found that in areas where the Catholic faith is stronger, cremation is chosen less frequently. Depending on the region of Madison, cremations make up 20 to 40 percent of all burials. I imagine the same is true for other cities, too. Why the body? Stay tuned for part 2!
- Tiffany J Gallozzi
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