While the Catholic Church does not officially endorse cremation as a way to handle human remains, cremating a loved one is no longer a total taboo. It is possible to have a Catholic funeral Mass for someone and subsequently have the body cremated. You may also have a Catholic funeral service for cremated remains with special permission.
Prior to 1963
Before 1963, the official stance of the Catholic Church was that cremation should never take place. Because Jesus Christ is believed to have died and then become risen from his grave, the church believed that all parishioners should also be buried in a grave or tomb as a sort of tribute to his resurrection. Cremation was also associated with a pagan belief system and therefore not in keeping with Christian traditions.
In 1963, the Catholic Church formally announced that it would no longer strictly forbid cremation. While burial is still the most encouraged form of laying someone to rest, Catholics may have a Catholic funeral Mass even if it is known that the remains will be cremated. The only time cremation remains absolutely forbidden is when it is conducted for the sole purpose of rebuffing Catholic beliefs.
When Cremation Happens
The Catholic Church prefers that cremation take place after a Mass where the body is present. The faith views a funeral Mass as a tribute to human life and the human body, and it is strongly encouraged that the deceased receive the funeral liturgy and rites before cremation. If it is not possible to have the body present for the Mass, permission may be granted by the church for cremated remains to receive a formal Mass.
How to Treat Remains
Cremated remains should be entombed or buried, according to the Catholic Church. The spreading of ashes, such as out to sea or over a favorite piece of landscape, is not supported by the church. Likewise, family members should not separate the remains among different loved ones or keep any part of the remains at home.
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