Friday, March 20, 2015

Strange Notions ... Concerns About Cremation

We are all just diamonds in the rough.

Monsignor Pope is the best.  He has a great post on the 'strange practices emerging' with the 'cremains' of our loved ones.

Evidently not a few people keep mom and dad at home, on the desk or on the mantle, while ungrateful nephews forget about Uncle Buck and put him back in the closet, yet Auntie Lola is made into a broach.  There appears to be no limit to what one can do with the ashes of the deceased.  It's a cult.

All cheekiness aside, Monsignor Pope really does help Catholics navigate what can and should be done when it comes to funerals - specifically cremation and burial.
From a pastoral point of view, these norms are clear and understandable. However, as a pastor, I must say that I have growing concerns over practices that are appearing with the more widespread use of cremation. 
The norms clearly indicate that cremated remains are not to be scattered, divided, or retained in the homes of the faithful on fireplace mantles, on shelves, or in other places. But these norms are somewhat difficult to enforce. 
The problem emerges essentially from the detachment of the funeral Mass from interment. When cremation is chosen, it is common for the funeral Mass to be celebrated quickly but the burial to be scheduled at some “later date” when arrangements can be more conveniently made. Frequently clergy are told that the family will “call back” at some point in the future. But often these calls never come and burials are put off indefinitely. 
Issues such as money, logistics, and family disputes are often factors in the delay. 
Priests, too, are often busy and do not have time to follow up to see if “Uncle Joe” is ready for burial now. As such, many deceased remain unburied for weeks, months, or years, or perhaps never even buried at all. 
I was shocked a couple of years ago to discover that a certain Catholic family still had the cremated remains of an uncle on the top shelf of their closet. The delay centered around who in the family was going to pay for the burial lot and debates about whether burial was even necessary at all. Perhaps the ashes could just be scattered out in the woods. 
Without the urgency to bury the dead, the burial is often given little regard. - Finish reading here.

I think the problem does  have a lot to do with the detachment of the funeral Mass from interment, as well as a lack of  urgency to bury the dead.

The division of ashes seems to me to hearken back to pagan practices, although some of the 'spiritual-not religious' may claim it isn't unlike the disposition of the relics of the saints, as I noted in my comment on Monsignor's post.

Terry Nelson says:March 19, 2015 at 11:07 amExcellent article Father. I wasn’t aware of the variety of developments such as making jewelry with the cremains – as I have heard them referred to. I knew you could make a diamond out of them or send them into space. You suggested fragmentation of the ashes was “ghoulishness and (in) bad taste”. However, since you brought it up, many people regard the collection and veneration of relics, which from ancient times included bodies and body parts, (St. Catherine’s head), bone fragments, and so on to be ghoulish as well. (I don’t – but a lot of people seem to – esp. non-Catholics.)
My point is, I think some people may have that practice in mind when making a diamond out of mom or attempting to keep the ashes.
In Latin countries, the practice of wearing relics or relicarios is a very old tradition. In fact the theca or pendant which holds the relics have a loop to facilitate wearing the relic around the neck. So as ghoulish as it may seem, cremains in a locket may not be all that strange.
Thanks for presenting clear Catholic teaching on the subject however. Your posts are very helpful.
God bless!

It's always something.

Nothing ghoulish about this ...



  1. I'd like to have my remains scattered across the blogosphere, but it's not allowed.

    1. It's all about stats now for you, isn't it.


      Just kidding.

  2. Terry,

    I wonder, is it fear that makes folks do this to loved ones? Is it lack of faith? Rejection of the bodily resurrection? Hum...lack of belief? These stories you share are bizarre and sad.

    I have a story to tell. As a hospice nurse I was assigned to take care of an elderly Hispanic gentleman who was dying of cancer. He had four daughters. All of them were helping with his care when we were not on duty. There was some drama in the family and they happened to share some of it with me one night.

    The four daughters were not in agreement as to who would bury their father after he died. He was born in Mexico and some wanted him there while some daughters, who lived in California, wanted him buried here.
    Anyway, they said they had reached an accord. And then told me about it. They would have him cremated and split his cremated remains "four ways" that way, "our father could be with all of us."

    When they told me this and asked for my opinion, I was taken aback. First, because as a professional, I could not give a personal opinion and secondly, because I had never heard nor imagined such stuff could go on let alone in a Catholic household.

    I told them I had to think about what they shared with me and could not reply from a personal point of view. They said they understood but wanted to know my thoughts anyway and reassured me they would not take offense if I disagreed.

    Here's what I did:

    I prayed about it. I told the Lord I was shocked and could not understand their way of thinking. I asked Him to help me to help them sort it out according to His will and not my personal opinion.

    Here's what happened:

    The sisters sat with me and I looked around the room. I saw large images of the Divine Mercy and of our Lady. I asked them if they knew what the image of the Divine Mercy meant to them. Some said yes, some, no. Then I told them what the teachings of the Church were with regards to a funeral Mass, sacred ground, the last judgement, the resurrection of the body. I told them about our Lord calling forth Lazarus from the tomb and how Lazarus responded and was freed from the bondage of death.

    I told them that it was an act of mercy to bury the dead and to hope in the resurrection and to pray for them. I asked them to seriously consider whether or not their father would rest in peace were he to be cremated and then divided into four lots. I was honest and told them with all due respect that how was it possible to think in such terms when an image of the Divine Mercy was hanging near their father's bed?

    Yes, I did get personal a little but then after I shared my thoughts I asked them to reconsider and to pray and to talk to their parish priest after having talked to me.

    The next day, when I went back, the four sisters told me they had talked amongst themselves and had decided they would honor their father's remains and bury him in sacred ground, whole, after he died. They seemed at ease and calm and I was relieved too since that was the thought that had been pressed upon me...that he would not rest in peace being divided up.

    I know it's long winded but it all came back to me after reading this post.

    Thanks for allowing me share it with all of you.

    1. You did well - esp. praying before responding. It turned out very well.

      I'm not sure why people want to do stuff like that - I suppose their faith is weak - they don't understand the spiritual life, or they just can't let go.

      Thanks for adding this story.

  3. I have a couple of cremation stories.

    My grandpa wanted to be cremated, back when that was rare around here. He also wanted his ashes scattered where he went hunting when he was younger. Mom was okay with cremation but not with scattering so purchased a container; square with a wreath on the front, surrounding his name and the dates. My family had stopped going to church several years before his death so there was no discussion of what to do; there had been a memorial service at the funeral home with the young priest, because the older priest said he couldn't do it. As a result, grandpa's ashes were on top the piano or bookcase until my grandma died; as she lay dying from cancer, she told mom that she wanted his ashes buried with her, there would be room between her feet and she could kick him for eternity. When we went to her hometown, mom brought the ashes, told the priest what grandma has said and asked if it could be done. He told her that ashes should be buried so grandma is kicking grandpa for eternity.

    I have also met a woman at a party who had a necklace with three charms; one hello kitty type, two round ones. Each contained ashes of a different cat.

    My mother died last week, after reconciling with the Church. She wanted to be cremated and have her ashes buried with my dad, in the container in which they arrived from the crematory. I was fine with that because I know that she isn't there. My secular sister cried so we were going to buy another container and have the funeral home take the ashes to the cemetery, have her interred without any prayer service and go to the cemetery with flowers at a later date; it's our local military shrine and burial takes place without family present. My brother was unable to come to the funeral but is supposed to be coming up soon, therefore, we decided to hold off on burying the ashes and do so with a prayer service so as to include him. I picked up the ashes today. The plastic box is in a cardboard box. I want to make sure they're safe and in a place sufficiently obvious that I won't wonder what I've done with mom's ashes so they're in the china cabinet.

    1. Sorry about your Mom.

      That's an interesting story about your grandparents.

      All I want is a holy death with a real priest administering real sacraments, and a Catholic Funeral Mass - no matter what shape I'm in. I'd like to be buried at a monastery, but I doubt they would have me so if I'm cremated, a friend maybe could sneak in at night and bury me next to the wall. I don't plan on having my death made public until all that is accomplished. Then I can be forgotten.

    2. Do you have a monastery in mind?

  4. I believe the issue for many is c. $12,000 burial versus $6,000 cremation. If all clergy and nuns etc. are effectively getting burials, they are getting the upper end option and when they write against cremation, it will be ...not so cogent. I had an affluent relative who became perfectly poor via the rest home avenue by which Medicaid followed the almost complete taking of her assets....with an allowance though for her funeral expenses. Health or illness in old age is the wild card that can reduce 90% of even affluent people to Christ's poverty in the final years. 60% of people in rest homes etc. are on medicaid. Why don't younger generations keep them home like the Amish do? Because most women work also and the elderly parents may leave the stove gas half on or as happened this week....a 70 year old drove into a Panera's restaurant....via the front window. I want the Church to move toward ocean scattering of ashes because I love the I may have to dust off Aquinas' ST piece on epikeia...the most unwritten about virtue in all of Catholicism. Germain Grisez mentioned it in his tome..." Way of the Lord Jesus"... and he gave it brief mention and surrounded that with warnings....the virtue used repeatedly in the gospel as when the disciples picked grain as they walked on the Sabbath. Yes ...I want ocean scatter.

    1. I also find some of the 'rules' insensitive and sometimes wondered about the cemetery business and the Church. A lot of our attitudes on burial and ceremonial customs is cultural and quite commercial now days. I'm not speaking of funeral rites here - just the funeral home stuff. You are right about the expense and the spend-down, spend-through that happens to even the affluent, and then the funeral expenses.

      The Trappists and other monastics bury the dead on a pallet, right in the ground - the only protection being a shroud. Try that in a parish.

    2. Bill, only 2% of the population goes into long-term care. There are so many programs now available to help people stay in their home that the ones in care need a much higher level of care than they did a few decades ago; there are also programs, such as geriatric daycare, that help people keep their loved ones at home and still go to work. My mom couldn't stay at home because she had a stroke, was paralyzed and needed care 24/7. She wasn't in care because we couldn't be bothered but because we didn't have a way to take care of her and ourselves.

      The low end of care is $3k/mo and most who go in need a higher level of care than that so assets diminish quickly.

      The Church doesn't conform to us, it is we who must conform to her.

    3. Bill, only 2% of the population goes into long-term care. There are so many programs now available to help people stay in their home that the ones in care need a much higher level of care than they did a few decades ago; there are also programs, such as geriatric daycare, that help people keep their loved ones at home and still go to work. My mom couldn't stay at home because she had a stroke, was paralyzed and needed care 24/7. She wasn't in care because we couldn't be bothered but because we didn't have a way to take care of her and ourselves.

      The low end of care is $3k/mo and most who go in need a higher level of care than that so assets diminish quickly.

      The Church doesn't conform to us, it is we who must conform to her.

    4. Nan,
      I think "long term" is the questionable term here. I have a relative recently in "rehab" one of the several titles of these places and whose house has been sold to pay bills prior to medicaid. She is 90. If she dies in six years...all money gone, is she counted in what you read as long term care? How was the 2% figure arrived at. People staying 10 years or more, 15 years or more?
      The Church doesn't conform to say. But the Church permits cremation now. It's an area not of infallibility at play but prudential decisions which the Church grows in via feedback, In 1454 Pope Nicholas V gave Portugal the right to conquer and enslave and despoil newly discovered natives in Romanus Pontifex, mid fourth large paragraph online. Three subsequent Popes agreed with him in writing but other Catholics began to dissent in writing and by 1537 they had convinced Pope Paul III to overturn the Popes who had affirmed slavery in Sublimus Dei. At the prudential level, both groups of Popes were what you call "Church" but the group of four were proven prudentially wrong in the long term of history. Place yourself as a wife in Portugal in 1467 with a husband in the slaving business in Brazil. You are conforming to the " Church" but not the doctrinal " Church" but the prudentially incorrect " Church" that doesn't yet think itself incorrect.
      Your granddaughter is also married to a slaver in 1537 when Pope Paul III says her husband's employment is immoral. Pivot point of a wiser moment in the Church caused by dissenting writers who influenced Paul III. but one that will jeopardize your granddaughter's income. 1454 was a bad pivot point in the " Church" prudential....bad for slaves...good financially for slavers.

    5. See second post below....35% will enter a nursing home eventually.

  5. I love the comtemplatives of Catholicism despite Merton's brief sidetrip into a made for country music fiasco....Patty Loveless said it well..." where'd ya get that alibi/ did it fall out of a midnight sky/ or did ya find it layin' by the side of the road".
    I remember Merton writing that the Carthusians put a terse epithet on each of their graves' cross..." he lived well" or something of that laconic nature. His great temptation early on was coveting the Carthusian vocation according to both him and his confessor. He applied hmself greatly to discerning it and defeating it.
    People think sexual as to his latter defeat. Been there with the "hey 19"'s more deeply about getting a second life when you become the attractive object to a youth. You're coveting again but this time you're coveting a redo of life another's eyes. And it crashes as Steely Dan wrote in "Babylon Sisters" and in "Hey 19"...the former being more serious..." my friends say no, don't go for that cotton candy..son, you're playin' with fire...the kid will live and learn as he watches his bridges burn...from the point of no return".
    The devil is a thief....he needed to steal reputation from Merton because Merton robbed men from him and the devil saw that...because as St. John of the Cross quoted Job..." the devil sees every high thing".

  6. PS gives 35%.... workout people and eat your veggies:

    " Among the population aged 65+, 69% will develop disabilities before they die, and 35% will eventually enter a nursing home.8 [Updated February 2015]"

  7. "Still sitting up in the chapter room." LOL I knew a few Benedictines who were ready in the chapter room.


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