When should cremation take place?
Careful Handling and Proper Interment of Cremated Remains
The Church strongly recommends that cremation take place after the full funeral liturgy with the body. The body’s presence clearly represents and reminds those at the funeral of the life and death of the deceased, as well as better expressing the values that the Church affirms in its rites.
This the body once washed in Baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed with the Bread of Life. This the body whose hands clothed the poor and embraced the sorrowing…Thus, the Church’s reverence and care for the body grow out of a reverence and concern for the person whom the Church now commends to the care of God… However, when circumstances prevent the presence of the body at the funeral liturgy…it is appropriate that the cremated remains of the body be present for the full course of the funeral rites, including the Vigil for the Deceased, the Funeral Liturgy, and Rite of Committal. The funeral liturgy should always be celebrated in a church. (Reflections on the Body, Cremation, and Catholic Funeral Rites, Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy)
Is it necessary to embalm?
When cremation follows the funeral liturgy, embalming is usually necessary. When cremation follows soon after death, embalming is not necessary. Each state has its own regulations in this matter, but generally the rule is that a deceased human body that is not buried or cremated within 24-48 hours must be embalmed or refrigerated. However, simple embalming and the use of a cremation casket need not lead to excessive costs.
If you choose to have the body present for Mass, with cremation to follow, rental of a casket may be an option. Many funeral directors will offer regular caskets for rent and special cremation or shell caskets for purchase.
What is the proper container for cremated remains?
Appropriate, worthy containers (not necessarily expensive) such as a classic urn are appropriate for the cremated remains. Currently, the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy has determined only what is not a proper container. Although jewelry, dishes, statuary, and space capsules and other such designer containers are now being offered, they are not accepted in Catholic funeral practice. Also, it is unacceptable to have cremated remains made into jewelry, dishes, and the like.
How should cremated remains be transported?
Transportation of cremated remains is a matter of personal choice. Individuals personally carrying a deceased person’s ashes carry the additional responsibility of packing and transporting the urn. Using the principle of respect for the body, the container of cremated remains may be wrapped and possibly sent as accompanying baggage or carry-on luggage. Check with the airline office or the state’s Department of Public Health for specific information about your region of travel before preparing the cremated remains for transport by air. Where there are no legal regulations regarding transporting cremated remains, most cremationists ship the cremated remains in a standard shipping container by U.S. Mail or other common carriers.
Must cremated remains be buried/entombed?
Respectful final disposition of cremated remains involves either internment or entombment. Burial options include a family grave in a cemetery marked with a traditional memorial stone or an urn garden, which is a special section in a cemetery with small, pre-dug graves for urns.
What is a columbarium?
This is an arrangement of niches, either in a mausoleum, a room, or wall into which an urn or other worthy vessel is permanently placed.
May I scatter the ashes?
No. 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. (Order of Christian Funeral, Appendix II #417) Burial at sea of cremated remains is allowed provided the ashes are not scattered but dropped into the sea in an appropriate and worthy container heavy enough to be sent to its final resting place (Order of Christian Funerals, #406.4). You should consult with local government regarding environmental regulations.
May anything be added to cremated remains such as the cremated remains of other persons, pets, or other objects?
The mingling of remains is not an accepted practice. Respect for the cremated remains of a deceased Christian embraces the belief in the individuality of each baptized person before God.
Who will decide if I am cremated?
The Funeral Rituals
In most cases you make the decision. However, your survivors may decide to have you cremated because of special family circumstances. This is rarely done against the deceased person’s will.
How do I make my wishes known?
If you wish to have your body cremated, you make those wishes known in your will and in your funeral plans.
Must I honor my parent’s or spouse’s wish to cremate them?
Out of respect for loved ones, you will want to do all you can to carry out the final wishes of the deceased regarding funeral services as long as they are in keeping with Church practice. Always keep in mind the therapeutic value to the family of celebrating the full funeral liturgy with the body present. This may significantly outweigh your reasons for cremation before the funeral liturgy.
What funeral rites are celebrated when a person is cremated?
Prayers After Death
The Church strongly prefers that cremation take place after the full funeral liturgy with the body. When this is impossible, all the usual rites that are celebrated with a body present may also be celebrated in the presence of cremated remains. In an appendix to the Order of Christian Funerals, the United States bishops have included prayers to be used when the cremated remains of a loved one are present in church (Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix II #432-438).
This ritual is used immediately following death. The presence of the minister, the reading, and the prayers can greatly comfort the family of the deceased. (Order of Christian Funerals, #101-108).
Gathering in the Presence of the Body
This ritual can also comfort family members and friends. It allows for a time of simple time of prayer and shared silence. (Order of Christian Funerals, #109-118).
Vigil for the Deceased
If cremation has already taken place, friends and family may still gather for prayer. While it has been a tradition to pray the rosary in some regions, the Vigil for the Deceased is a Liturgy of the Word that includes prayer for the deceased and recognition of his or her Christian life. (Order of Christian Funerals, #54-97).
Should I schedule a funeral Mass before or after cremation?
Rite of Committal
The Church strongly prefers cremation after the Funeral Mass. However, if it is not possible for the body to be present at the Funeral Mass, the Vatican has allowed for the celebration of the Mass with the cremated remains in church.
Do I need permission to have cremated remains in church (for the funeral liturgy)?
The indult granting the diocesan bishops of the United States authority to permit a funeral liturgy in the presence of cremated remains has two requirements. First, the diocesan bishop must authorize this practice for his diocese. Second, each individual case requires episcopal permission, which your pastor will need to seek for you.
What length of time is there between death, cremation, and funeral Mass?
This varies, just as in the case of funerals with the body. The place of death, the location of the crematory, scheduling a time for cremation, the schedule at the parish church, and other circumstances must be taken into consideration. Once all arrangements have been made, you should generally allow at least one day between death and the celebration of the funeral liturgy.
What happens at the Funeral Mass with cremated remains?
A journey that began at baptism concludes when we enter into eternal life. Attention should be given to the symbols of the Catholic funeral liturgy as stated in the Order of Christian Funerals and its commentaries. The paschal candle and sprinkling with holy water symbolize baptism and should be used during the funeral Mass. However, the pall is not used. Photos and other mementos may be used at the vigil but are not appropriate for the Mass. During the Mass, the cremated remains should be treated with the same dignity and respect as the body. They are to be sealed in a worthy vessel. They may be carried in procession and/or placed on a table where the coffin normally would be with the Easter candle nearby.
The body is always laid to rest with solemn dignity. So too, the Order of Christian Funerals provides for the internment of cremated remains (Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix II #438).