Can a Catholic Keep Cremated Ashes at Home?

An urn for cremated remains.
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In 1963, the Catholic Church lifted its ban on cremation. In 1997, the Church moved to allow Funeral Masses to be celebrated with ashes instead of the body However, the Church maintains its strict policy that cremated remains be buried in an appropriate ceremony and location.

1 Handling

The Church stipulates that cremated remains be treated with the same respect that would be given a body. The ashes should be stored in a vessel that is both adequate to maintain them and reverent. The ashes should also be handled with dignity at all times, being carried and transported with care and respect to their final place of disposition.

2 Disposition

The Church requires that cremated remains be buried in a grave or mausoleum. The practice of scattering ashes, whether at sea, in the air or on the ground, is not permitted. The Church believes that scattering is disrespectful to the body, of which the ashes are just another form, because the body is the vehicle of the soul of the deceased and the Holy Spirit. The Church also believes that scattering the remains deprives the family of a way to commemorate the departed at a later time. In the same way, the Church prohibits keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend: Just as you would not keep the body in a home, you should not keep the ashes there either. The Church also recommends that the memory of the deceased be recorded with a plaque or stone inscribed with the person’s name.

3 Rite Of Committal

The last part of a Catholic Funeral, the Rite of Committal, takes place at the burial; this is another reason that it is important that the ashes be properly disposed. The body (in this case, in the form of ashes) is returned to the earth from which it came so that it can, in the beliefs of the Catholic Church, rise again and be reunited with God in Heaven.

4 New Options

To keep up with changing times, many Catholic cemeteries are offering new variations on traditional options for those who choose cremation. One of these is the boulder-tomb, in which a hole is drilled into a granite rock to create a space for an urn to be inserted and then sealed shut with a memorial plate. Other cemeteries offer lawn crypts, urn gardens and columbariums (niches for urns in stand-alone structures or mausoleums). One of the latest innovations is a combination grave with spaces for both bodies and niches for urns so that multiple family members can be buried there in different ways.

Based in Medellín, Colombia, Maryanne Schiffman has a B.A. in economic development from UC Berkeley and an M.A. in Latin American studies from the University of Texas. Writing for more than 20 years, she has contributed to academic journals and online publications, including the Colombian NTN24 news website.