Vatican: Cremation OK, but keep ashes off mantel

Cremation is OK for Catholics, but don't keep those ashes on the mantel or scatter them in the ocean. And don't put them in jewelry, either.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued updated instructions Tuesday on rules for cremation. The church reiterated its approval of cremation, but emphasized the need to bury them — all in one place — in cemeteries or other "sacred places."

"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 jewelry or other objects," the instructions say.

Ashes also can't be divvied up among family members. The church says the goal is to keep the ashes together at a location where the departed won't be "excluded" from prayers and remembrances of other Christians.

Cremation gained bonafides from the church in 1963, when it was decided that sacraments and funeral rites should not be denied to Catholics who have asked for cremation — as long as the choice wasn't made as a reproach of the church.

"During the intervening years, the practice of cremation has notably increased in many countries, but simultaneously new ideas contrary to the Church’s faith have also become widespread," the congregation said in its new instructions.

The instructions state that while at death the soul is separated from the body, at the time of the resurrection "God will give incorruptible life to our body" reunited with the soul.

"By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body, and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity," the instructions say. "She cannot, therefore, condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the 'prison' of the body."

The instructions were published eight days before All Souls Day, a holy day in the church set aside to honor and pray for the dead.


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