By David Kerr
The Catholic Church in Italy has issued new guidelines that rule out scattering the cremated remains of a person or the keeping them in an urn at home.
“Cremation is considered as concluded when the urn is deposited in the cemetery,” says the appendix to the new edition of Funeral Rites issued by Italian Episcopal Conference.
“The practice of spreading ashes in the wild or keeping them in places other than the cemetery,” it adds, “raises many concerns about its full consistency with the Christian faith, especially when they imply pantheistic or naturalist conceptions.”
The new book of Funeral Rites was published earlier this month and will come into force in parishes across Italy on Nov. 2, All Souls Day.
Official statistics suggest that around 10 percent of Italians who die are cremated. Since 2001 the Italian government has permitted ashes to be kept at homes in urns or to be scattered on land or sea.
In the lead-up to the new Funeral Rites being produced this month, there was some media speculation in Italy that the Church would also accept these practices under certain circumstances.
Traditionally, the Catholic Church permitted cremation only when grave public necessity required the rapid removal of bodies, such as in time of plague or natural disaster.
The concern of the Church was that the rejection of Christian burial could be viewed as a rejection of Christian belief in the resurrection of the body and immortality of the soul. Indeed, the use of cremation was championed from the 18th century Enlightenment onwards by many anti-Catholic movements such as the Freemasons.
The practical application of the Church’s teaching on the issue was modified, however, in a 1963 Holy Office document “Piam et constantem.” It noted that cremation had often been used by people “imbued with the animosity of their secret societies” as a symbol of their “antagonistic denial of Christian dogma, above all of the resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the soul.”
But the document also pointed out that “such an intent clearly was subjective, belonging to the mind of the proponents of cremation, not something objective, inherent in the meaning of cremation itself.”
“Cremation does not affect the soul nor prevent God’s omnipotence from restoring the body,” it stated, adding that “neither, then, does it in itself include an objective denial of the dogmas mentioned.”
It concluded that many contemporary advocates of cremation did not do so “out of hatred of the Church or Christian customs” but rather “for reasons of health, economics, or other reasons involving private or public order.”
The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms this position. “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.”
The 1983 Code of Canon Law is slightly more expansive and states that “the Church earnestly recommends the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.”