Our bodies matter in life and in death

This article is part of a series from the Archdiocesan Worship Commission of which Father Gross is a member.

By Father G. Robert Gross
Special to The Witness

Every time we profess the creed during Mass or pray the rosary, we confess, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” St. Paul put it this way: “For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). This article of the creed was one of the most precious beliefs of the early church and continues to be. How does this article of the creed affect my life? One answer to that is at funerals.

We face the reality of the resurrection when we look upon our loved one who has died.  We believe that as Jesus was raised on the third day, we will be raised like him.  This means a bodily resurrection. We are clothed with immortality as St. Paul teaches. The resurrection of our body and its reunion with our immortal soul is the central good news of Jesus Christ! We live forever.

In 1963, the Vatican lifted the prohibition on cremation; since that time, cremation has been allowed. In this short article, I want to summarize the church’s belief and practice when it comes to cremated remains of a deceased person.

The Order of Christian Funerals (OCF) paragraph 413 states, “Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body. The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites.”

The takeaway is this: The church prefers body burials over cremation. If there is cremation, the church prefers the presence of the body at the funeral Mass, and then cremation, and burial after cremation has occurred.

The second concern the church has with regards to cremation is the respect for the cremated remains of the body.  OCF paragraph 417 states, “The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the church requires. Whenever possible, appropriate means of recording with dignity the memory of the deceased should be adopted such as a plaque or stone which record the same of the deceased.”

The takeaway from this is that cremated remains are to be treated like a body.  They are to be buried in the ground. The urn must have the dignity of a casket.  It is inappropriate to keep the ashes in a person’s home.  It is inappropriate to make jewelry out of the ashes. It is inappropriate to scatter the ashes. The ashes should be buried in a cemetery with a stone or plaque to remember the person who has died.

If cremation is chosen, this is how the church prefers to celebrate the funeral rites:

  1. The body is prepared and placed in a casket for the vigil (wake) and the funeral Mass.
  2. The body is present at the funeral Mass.
  3. After the funeral Mass, the body is cremated.
  4. After cremation, the family gathers in the cemetery for the rite of committal led by a minister of the church.

If the cremation takes place immediately, the church prefers the following:

  1. The ashes are treated with the same respect as the body.
  2. The ashes are placed in a dignified urn (dignified means looking like a casket).
  3. The urn is present at the funeral Mass.
  4. The urn is buried immediately after the funeral Mass with the rite of committal.

St. Paul said, “For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). Our bodies are part of God’s plan to transform us into Christ’s likeness and life. May we honor our bodies in life and honor our bodies in death with the hope of the resurrection on the last day!

Father Gross is pastor of St. Aloysius, Calmar; Our Lady of Seven Dolors, Festina; St. Francis de Sales, Ossian; St. Wenceslaus, Spillville.

 

A mosaic of St. Peter is seen in the Teutonic cemetery at the Vatican March 6. Tradition maintains that a chapel in the cemetery marks the spot where St. Peter was crucified. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)