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July 18, 2006



I'm confused. Church law is contrary to what natural law would allow? Maybe you could explain exactly what is, or isn't, "natural law".


Cremation does not necessarily avoid the cost of an expensive funeral. To be cremated a body must be in a casket. Yes, there are "inexpensive" plywood or particle board caskets available, but for viewing a family usually wants to avoid a cheap image. And even the "inexpensive" caskets are not cheap.

Both of my parents were cremated. We already have a family plot (where my parents' cremains are buried). When my mother died in 2000 we already had a clear image of what her funeral needs were. The urn had already been purchased when my father died three years previously. I printed all of the holy cards and thank you notes, avoiding those provided by the funeral home. I was the musician at the funeral Mass.

By the time we had made all of our fairly conservative choices at the funeral home, my mother's funeral cost $7,000. Remember, this price did not include an urn, a burial plot, holy cards, thank you notes, or funeral music.




Could you please comment further about why the Church does not consider the scattering of the cremains as "a reverent disposition that the Church requires."

I can understand if someone is doing so as an overt act against the Church and/or the faith. This was the reason why (I thought) for the longest time the Church did not allow cremation (cremation being a pagan ritual).

The Church has since allowed cremation. If that is now the case, then why not allow the scattering of the ashes so long as it is done within the context of the faith and with reverence?

P.S. I agree with others, above, that the cost of funerals nowadays (whichever way it's done) is obscene.


Having just read (in Radio Replies, Volume 3) the Church's justification, as of the 1940's, on why She does not allow cremation, I find myself being persuaded.

Why does the Church now consider cremation to be OK, and how does she deal with the apparent agenda of some proponents of cremation who want to associate burning the remains with annihilation of the soul?

Kevin Jones

"This was made clear to me a number of years ago when I was talking with a friend of mine who as raised in a different culture and she expressed horror at the idea of archaeologists digging into graves to learn about previous cultures. To her this was an unacceptable desecration, and the respectful thing to do would be to leave the graves alone."

Sometimes the distinction between archaeology and grave-robbing isn't the clearest. Your friend's reaction might be touching on a moral nerve numbed for us curious Americans.

As for cremation: how are we to venerate the relics of a cremated saint?

Deacon Joe

Barbara—The Church's law is not contrary to what natural law would allow; the Church's law specifies a particular subset of what natural law allows, and makes that subset normative for Catholics.


I'm also uncomfortable with how archaeology sometimes tends towards grave robbing. I doubt it's immoral for archaeologists to excavate tombs and graves and study human remains in order to learn more about a past culture. But some archaeologists don't stop there - instead of being returned to the earth, some human remains now displayed in museums.

While there certainly is an educational value in seeing ancient mummies and skeletons in a museum, this practice has always struck me as disrespectful. These were still human beings who wanted to be laid to rest in a certain manner and never intended to some day be taken from their graves, carted off half-way around the world, and put in a glass case so slack jawed middle schoolers can stare at them and squeal "oh gross!" My husband says that's what they get for trying to preserve their bodies for all eternity. That may be fair to say about deliberately mummified bodies (i.e., Egyptians). But what about skeletons and naturally mummified or otherwise preserved bodies (such as bog men) which can be seen in museums across the USA and Europe? Those people didn't intend to be preserved forever, as far as we know.

Does anyone else find it disrespectful to put these remains on display just like pieces of ancient pottery, stone tools and other mere objects? I get the impression that the older human remains are the less "human" they are and the more acceptable it is to treat them like a mere object. I'm not sure whatever educational value there might be in displaying remains in a museum justifies this sort of treatment of another human being. It's always bugged me - does anyone else feel the same way?


Re: bodies in museums

Doesn't bother me, for the same reason relics don't bother me. I've never seen anyone giggle at a mummy, or mock an ancient person's bones. (If they did, I wouldn't blame the museum; I would give the offender a Cold Death Stare.) I don't think I've ever passed our local mummy and set of bones without praying for them, either. (There used to be a sign up advising and instructing folks to do so, but it seems to have been removed.)

And since we are their surviving kin, we do have a right to move the dead about for sufficiently good reasons.

I also take this opportunity to mention my archeology professor, a curmudgeon in the grand style. Whenever anybody mentioned confiscating and reburying his sets of bones, he made sure to point out that he was THE expert on this particular culture and its burial customs, and that therefore he was THE best-suited person to decide their fate and perform any necessary religious rituals. (As opposed to, say, certain activists from out West, from a totally unrelated melange of cultures, who weren't even any kind of religious leaders in said cultures.) He respected his bodies a lot more than he did his living students and associates, actually. :)

That said, it's not nice to dig up folks from those cultures that _do_ have a particular horror of being dug up.


Oh, my....This does bring back memories....
Some years back, a friend's mother passed away, & was cremated. Then began the problems, as none of the relatives could decide what they wanted to do with the cremains....Lucky me, I was chosen as the "neutral party" who got to retain possession of Mom's ashes until the issue was decided. (They buried her remains next to her late husband).
Leading to a couple of points: (a) These things need to be thought out & written down, ahead of time, & (b) It is very, very difficult to remain properly serious when telling one's own family, "If I drop dead suddenly, be sure to call this number, so they can come get their mother out of the closet in the back bedroom".
It gave me, I have to tell you, a whole new way of looking at the subject of cremation...which I had always thought of, as a very dignified & respectful way of dealing with a dead body. Well, it changes when the body is in your home. As, I suspect, many folks--possibley including, at some point in the future, the family in question here....

Some Day

Some are going to hate me for saying so, but cremation was not always allowed. It would be something, "progressiveness" has brought on.
Money is not the issue. And in the Bible, no one said "Go and burn the dead". It was more like "bury the dead". But then you could argue that Our Lord said let the "dead bury the dead".
Are you dead?


What about a sailor who is killed in action on the high seas? Would the church allow 'burial' at sea as opposed to cremated remains being scattered at sea? Also, Gene Roddenbery and Timothy Leary are 'orbiting' the planet now, would the Church allow this?


Burying the dead is one of the corporal works of mercy.

I always thought that keeping the body in tact was acknowledgement of the future ressurection of the body. Of course seperating the body won't stop God ressurecting them, but it is a sign of respect. Or rather I thought that some people who would scatter remains as a statement would do so in denial of their ressurection.

Susan Peterson

My parents were not Catholic. My mother was baptized Catholic but left the church at age 17 when she went to college. My father was unbaptized. Both expressed that their remains would be handled in the least expensive way possible, which is "direct cremation." This means the body is picked up from the hospital or from home by the funeral home and is cremated by them in whatever container is convenient for them with no "viewing". This costs $1500. They did in fact save the bodies overnight for me to view, my mother in her hospital gown, my father in the clothes he was wearing when found dead on his bedroom floor. My sister saw my mother shortly after she died in the hospital and she is the one who found my father, and she was the only other one really concerned. For my mother we had a memorial service at the Unitarian church my parents attended.... people sat around a candle and told nice stories about my mother -ok as far as it went but offering no hope.My sister never even picked up the ashes from the funeral home,which is 5 miles from where she was living and 300 from where I live. My sister refused to go through the effort of organizing a service like that for my father, saying I should do it if I wanted one. I can't bear another Unitarian service and there are few people around now who remember him; his brother is in the advanced stages of Alzheimers, my mother's sisters are not well and really don't want to travel to attend. I have thought of asking a priest to do some kind of service over their ashes, but some of my children who don't practice the faith I tried to teach them, would be angry that I was having a ceremony that my parents would have adamently and angrily rejected during their life. We just let the issue drop,(he died in April.) and I now wonder if I shouldn't do this privately. I fussed and insisted until my sister picked up both sets of ashes from the funeral home...and they are now sitting in cardboard boxes under a desk in my house.

Will a priest say a funeral service (or the Panchida -Eastern rite memorial service)for a lapsed Catholic and an unbaptized person? If so, and if I after that bury them in my backyard and plant rose bushes over them...which I know they would like, since they were both gardeners and won prizes for their flowers at garden shows...would that be showing enough respect? (I think it might be illegal to do this in my backyard but no one would have to know about what was under those rose bushes.) Purchasing a cemetary plot and headstones does seem like a useless expense which they would not even have wanted. I know they would say to use the money to help out my financially struggling children with their education or buying a house. (Not hypothetical but current present needs.)

Susan Peterson

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