Can You Have a Catholic Funeral if You Are Cremated?

The Roman Catholic faith is all about following centuries of traditions and rules. If you consider yourself one of the faithful, you know this very well - there are rules that you need to follow for many aspects of both your spiritual and your secular life. Fittingly, these rules also extend to what your funeral should look like — if you want to have a Catholic funeral, there are certain elements that must occur.

This may raise questions, particularly if you or the deceased were interested in cremation. What does a traditional Catholic funeral permit, and what does it not allow? Namely, can a Catholic be cremated before a Catholic funeral Mass? How does a funeral differ for cremated Catholics in comparison to one for a Catholic who prefers to be buried traditionally in a casket? If you want to find out more about how cremation can be an option for Catholics, and how this changes the traditional funeral process, we have the answers below.

Permission Granted

To not belabor the point, yes, you can have a Catholic funeral if you're cremated. The Catholic Church lifted its ban on cremation in 1963, and now allows the practice as long as it is not done for reasons that are contrary to the Christian faith. The Catholic Church teaches that the human body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and that it should be treated with respect. However, the Church also teaches that death is not the end, but rather a transition to eternal life. As such, the Church does not believe that cremation prevents a person from being saved (though does prefer the cremated remains to remain together).

If you are a Catholic who wants to be cremated, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, you should make sure that your wishes are known to your family and friends. Next, you should choose a funeral home that is familiar with Catholic funeral rites. Finally, faithful members should be prepared to comply with the rules that the Catholic Church has set in place so that Catholics can respectively be cremated before the funeral Mass.

Why Is Cremation Permitted?

So why is it that the Catholic Church now permits cremation? For many years, this wasn't necessarily the case. There has never been any express language in the Bible that required Catholics to bury their dead instead of cremating them. However, as the religion is very steeped in tradition, casket burials have been the custom for quite literally centuries. Additionally, again due to the age of Catholicism, many Biblical scholars believe that social pressures on early Catholics to differentiate their beliefs and practices from pagan religions led them to prefer casket burials instead of cremations. Additionally and crucially, as referenced earlier, the preference is to keep the elements of the body together, which can be difficult if the cremated remains are, for example, split into different urns and kept in different homes or scattered in different locations.

Today, however, things are different. Society has changed in fundamental ways in the centuries since the founding of Christianity, and the social benefits of cremation are well-known. Cremation is generally less expensive than a traditional casket burial. There's evidence that it is more environmentally friendly as well. For these reasons and many others, the Church saw fit to clarify its position on cremation by officially recognizing it as fully permissible under Catholic doctrine as a method of final disposition for the faithful.

How a Catholic Funeral with Cremation Might Be Different

A Catholic funeral with cremation will be similar to a traditional Catholic funeral in many ways. The funeral mass will still include the same readings from the Bible, the same prayers, and the same homily. However, there will be a few differences, with the most obvious being that the body of the deceased will not be present at the funeral mass. Instead, the priest will bless the cremated remains of the deceased person.

The other biggest difference is that the cremated remains of Catholics are typically not kept in an urn at home after the funeral. Part of the Catholic faith involves the interment of remains, either in a burial or in a mausoleum. However, this differs with cremated remains. Ashes can be buried in a Catholic cemetery, but they can also be interred in a columbarium. These facilities are similar to mausoleums, but they are designed to house cremation urns instead of caskets.

It should be noted that it is also entirely possible to have a service first, with a viewing of the body, and then have the body cremated.

Why Don't Catholics Scatter or Keep Cremated Remains?

It's true that cremation is permitted under the teachings of the Catholic Church, but why is it that scattering or keeping remains isn't? It is, after all, considered customary by many non-Catholics to retain the cremated remains of a loved one in an ornamental urn and have it in a place of honor within the home. Many other non-Catholics choose to scatter remains in a place that had significance to the deceased, but this practice is also not permitted for the cremated remains of Catholics.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that scattering remains can be interpreted as a kind of desecration of the remains of the deceased under Catholic doctrine. The second reason is that scattering or keeping remains in a private home deprives the wider Catholic community of opportunities to venerate the remains in an accessible place, such as a cemetery. Essentially, the Church requires the remains of the deceased to be treated exactly how the intact body of the deceased would be and doesn't accept any alternatives.

Understanding the Catholic Faith and Cremation

If you are a Catholic who wants to be cremated, you can still have a Catholic funeral. As long as the cremation takes place within the rules set aside by the Vatican for the proper disposition of remains, Catholics can be cremated before the funeral Mass. That said, there will be a few differences from a traditional Catholic funeral. By working with your family, friends, and a funeral home that is familiar with Catholic funeral rites, you can plan a funeral that honors your wishes and respects your faith.

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