How May Cremated Ashes Be Disposed Of?

Cremation has been permitted for decades. I was surprised to recently hear that the Church frowns on scattering of ashes in gardens or picturesque settings for example. The ashes should be respectfully enclosed in a box with a proper memorial (as you see at cemeteries). Whether that is strictly true or not I don’t know. Any official guidelines on this?


I see that you’re in Australia and the Australian bishops may have specific guidelines. Here’s what the US Conference of Catholic Bishops says:

Thus, while “cremation is now permitted, 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 human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in its rites.” (OCF 413) However, “when extraordinary circumstances make the cremation of a body the only feasible choice, pastoral sensitivity must be exercised by all who minister to the family of the deceased.” (OCF 414)

The rites for burial of the cremated remains of a body may be found in the appendix to the Order of Christian Funerals. This appendix recommends that when cremation is chosen, the body be cremated after the Funeral, thus allowing for the presence of the body at the Funeral Mass. When pastoral circumstances require it, however, cremation and committal may take place even before the Funeral liturgy.

Any catechesis on the subject of cremation should emphasize that “**the cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the corporeal remains of a human body. **This includes the use of 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.” (OCF 416)

**While cremated remains may be buried in a grave, entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium or even buried at sea, “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.” **(OCF 416) The cremated remains of the body may be properly buried at sea in the urn, coffin or other container in which they have been carried to the place of committal. Source]

Why did this surprise you?

What SMD said. :wink:

We should take care in our language as well. The cremated remains of an individual is not something to be “disposed of” as though it were some piece of garbage. We’re talking about human remains here. They ought to be treated with respect and dignity. That is why the Church does not allow “spreading the ashes” anywhere.

It surprised me because it is overwhelmingly the custom in these parts… and I obviously hadn’t given it that much thought until I heard otherwise.


Oops I forgot … thanks Suscipemedomine that really was helpful. I think the rule is the same here for Catholics.

Cheers, Rove

I honestly believe that, like the permission to allow altar girls, the permission to allow cremation (not a statement about an article of doctrine and not an infallible statement) was a mistake.

The Church documents clearly state a preference for burial, then go on to permit cremation! This is trying to have things both ways. I think it was another attempt to appease modern man and to appear up to date and flexible. For the vast majority of the Church’s 2000 year history cremation was seen as a pagan practice and absolutely forbidden to Catholics.

Can you imagine the cremation of a Pope or a Saint?

I can only hope that a revision of this ruling will come soon.

I have a copy of a pamphlet written by a Protestant pastor condeming cremation and given a whole list of reasons why it is an un-Christian practice first introduced by ancient pagan cultures. This used to be the view of the Church.

As I said, read the official Church documents regarding cremation and you will find they are prefaced with a clearly stated preference for burial.

Would you hapen to have a reference on this I can check?

Not on the “forbidden to Catholics” part, but on the “seen as a pagan practice” part. I have always thought, perhaps wrongly, that the Chruch forbade cremation because it was being done by those who did not believe in the resurrection as a final affront against God, as in “go ahead and see if you can resurrect me from *this”, *and not specifically because it was the common custom for some sects/religions. In fact, the Catechism uses the same langauge:
The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.93 CCC 2301

I’m currently struggling with this issue. My family is catholic and we lost our dad yesterday.we have a family cabin in minnesota and it’s always been his intention to be cremated and have his ashes spread on the property.I understand it’s frowned upon but also know this was his last wish. Any input would be appreciated.

Could you not simply bury the urn containing his ashes on the property? Choose a section that could be used as a family burial plot and fence it off. Your dad might not be the last who would like to be there after death.

I would do this:

And get a priest to come bless the plot of land.

talian Church won’t object to scattering of ashes, newspaper reports

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service…ns/0800142.htm

ROME (CNS) – Although the Catholic Church would prefer that those who die be buried in the ground, cremation is acceptable and, in certain circumstances, the church in Italy will not object to a person’s ashes being scattered, reported the daily Catholic newspaper Avvenire.

The Italian bishops released their new translation of Catholic funeral rites in November, for the first time adding prayers to be recited at a crematorium and for a funeral celebrated in the presence of the deceased’s ashes rather than a body.

The texts, Avvenire reported in a series of articles Jan. 9, were relatively unknown until a secular newspaper reported that a priest in northern Italy refused a Catholic funeral for a man who had asked that his ashes be scattered in the mountains.

The Diocese of Aosta later issued a statement saying that although the priest had hesitated, in the end there was a Catholic funeral and “church funerals will be celebrated for all the faithful, including those who have chosen the scattering of their ashes as long as the choice was not made for reasons contrary to the Christian faith.”

Until 2001, Italian law prohibited the scattering of ashes. The Cremation Society’s international statistics noted that in 2005 just under 9 percent of Italians who died were cremated; the percentage in the United States for the same year was about 32 percent.

Father Silvano Sirboni, a pastor and liturgist, wrote in Avvenire that while cremation was an ancient practice the spread of Christianity brought with it a growing desire to be buried in the ground as Jesus was.

Cremation was introduced into Italy in the early 1800s under Napoleon’s rule, “for hygienic reasons,” but became popular among opponents of the pope’s temporal rule over Rome and surrounding territories, Father Sirboni said.

Cremation became a “sign of aversion to the church and its doctrine,” he said. Consequently, the 1917 Code of Canon Law denied a Catholic funeral to those who had chosen cremation.

In 1963, the Vatican issued new norms permitting Catholic funerals for those who wanted to be cremated as long as they had not chosen cremation as an expression of disbelief in the Resurrection or in other Catholic doctrines, Father Sirboni wrote.

The Italian bishops’ pastoral guidelines, issued along with the new translation of the rites, said Catholic funerals should be denied to those who request their ashes be scattered if they are motivated by “a pantheistic or naturalistic mentality” which denies the existence of one God, who is separate from his creation.

Father Sirboni said this guideline was meant to “dissuade people from certain choices” and to encourage priests to discuss the choices with a family and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

I don’t think that refusing to deny a person a Catholic funeral is quite the same as saying the Church does not object to the practice of scattering ashes.

Quite apart from succumbing to popular fashion, I think the Church has come to realize that for many families, the cost of a traditional burial is prohibitive in many places. Rather than saddle such families with an unnecessary burden, she has stated a preferred method while not closing the door on cremation as an alternative.

I think that was very wise. Jesus after all, was not averse to bending the rules a bit in the name of charity.

The Italian Episcopal Community (CEI) objects to the scattering of ashes. The article quoted here refers to 2008. The article refer to the changes in a document, the pastoral supplement to the document of the funeral rite, that was approved in 2007. I think that the new funeral rite was approved in November 2009 and the CEI made sure to prohibit the dispersion of ashes or their burial in a garden.

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