Catholic Procedures for Burying Cremated Remains

Catholicism allows the celebration of the Order of Christian Funerals for cremated remains.
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The Catholic Church favors burial of a body in its entirety over cremation, but in 1997 formally granted permission for bishops in the United States to perform Catholic burial mass for cremated remains within church buildings. Prior to this ruling by the Holy See, cremated remains were not allowed to be present during the funeral mass, the main rite of the Order of Christian Funerals.

1 Order of Christian Funerals

The Order of Christian Funerals is the formal name for the liturgy and rites surrounding a Catholic burial. There are four components to the Order of Christian Funerals: prayers at the time of death in the presence of the body, a vigil prayer during the wake, a funeral liturgy and the rite of committal. The Catholic Church strongly recommends cremation occur after the celebration of the funeral liturgy, as this precludes the ability to perform prayers at the time of death in the presence of the body. When this is not possible, the burial mass is performed in the presence of the cremated remains.

2 Rites and Liturgy

The Catholic Church has great respect for the sanctity of human life. It therefore requires the cremated remains be placed in an appropriate receptacle and treated with the same level of dignity that would be afforded a body. A pall is not used to bring the remains into the church for the burial mass. The remains are set in a place of honor and the deceased may be blessed with holy water, incense and the Easter candle. In accordance with the Order of Christian Funerals, the rite of committal occurs immediately following the burial mass whenever possible.

3 Burial Options

In the Catholic tradition cremated remains are interred in the ground or inurned above-ground. If an in-ground burial is chosen, the remains may be buried in a standard-size grave, an urn-sized grave or even on top of an existing grave when permission is given. There are many burial options if above-ground inurnment is chosen. The deceased may be laid to rest in a mausoleum, a niche in a columbarium facility or in another above-ground method. Other above-ground options include inurnment in a cremation bench, a cremation rock or even within a granite memorial.

4 Prohibited Practices

Catholics believe that God creates each person and that not only is the body the temple of the Holy Spirit, but Christians will be bodily resurrected by Christ. Catholic funeral practices are informed by these deeply held beliefs. For this reason, scattering cremated ashes or displaying urns filled with a loved one’s cremated remains within a home are strictly prohibited. The Catholic Church requires the deceased’s remains to receive a permanent, well-marked resting place, preferably within a Catholic cemetery.

Elise Medina writes and cooks in northern Virginia, where she works as a nutrition consultant. She holds a B.A. in political science and Spanish from Virginia Tech, as well as a master’s degree in political science from George Mason University.