Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Can Catholics Cremate?

The Catholic Church’s assessment of cremation has changed over the years. At the time of Jesus’ birth, cremation was practiced in the Roman Empire. Things changed when Jesus, after his death on the cross, was buried in a catacomb, within a cave.

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Catholics adopted Jewish burial practices.

Early Catholics did not follow the dictates of the Roman Empire. Instead, they followed common Jewish burial practices. Catholics buried their loved ones in cemeteries, or in underground caves called catacombs. After Jesus died, his burial place was revered as a holy, sacred space. Catholics buried loved ones above and in ground, but they did not cremate. It was forbidden by Catholic law. In general cremation fell into disfavor. In fact, if we look at the Bible, when people were cremated (burned by fire) it was often as a means of penalty for their sins.

Cremation returns in the middle ages.

Cremation was used as a form of final disposition to halt contagion and manage the mass deaths throughout Europe, during the middle Ages. After, many people in Europe continued to use cremation due to poor economic conditions, lack of cemetery space, and frustration with the funerals conducted in funeral homes. The Catholic Church continued their firm stance against cremation believing burning the body was a renunciation of the Catholic credence in the holy resurrection of the body and soul. In 1917 the Code of Canon law emphatically denied a Catholic funeral for those who were cremated and banned the practice of cremation.

The Pope gives a thumbs up for Catholics to cremate.

After years of pleading by Catholics, a new law was passed permitting, but never condoning cremation for Catholics. In 1963 the Vatican officially lifted the prohibition against cremation, but did not encourage it. Finally, in 1983 a new revision of Canon Law replaced the 1917 Code. The new revision allowed cremation for the body of a deceased Catholic. The preferred means of final disposition for Catholics remains in ground or above ground burial. But now, Catholics have a choice and are not penalized by forsaking a Catholic mass or burial in a Catholic cemetery.
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