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Does the Catholic Faith Allow Embalming?

When Pope John Paul II passed into the loving arms of the Lord, the Vatican officials announced that he had not been embalmed, but had been “prepared” for the viewing by the faithful. Despite this, most popes in living memory have been embalmed and indeed, the Catholic Church does not prohibit the practice. Since it is customary to hold a vigil a day or so prior to the burial service at a Catholic cemetery in San Jose, embalming may even be legally required.

Embalming is often necessary for the viewing.

Catholic families traditionally hold visitations. A vigil service, during which the mourners come together to pray with a priest, may be held separate from a larger wake. Because these funeral arrangements will inevitably delay the burial service and because state law may require it, it is generally necessary to embalm the body of the decedent.

Embalming may be necessary even if cremation is chosen.

The Catholic Church has only recently declared that it is acceptable for Catholics to be cremated. However, it is still generally preferable for the cremation to take place after the vigil service, wake, and funeral service, but is no longer required, and most priests will allow cremated remains to be present at a memorial Mass. If you choose to be cremated after the services take place, the body will need to be in a preserved state for these Catholic services, it will be necessary to engage the services of an embalmer.

Other preparations of the body may also be needed.

Embalming is a procedure that is carefully and respectfully performed by professionals. It involves the removal of all of the bodily fluids. These fluids are then replaced by chemical solutions, including formaldehyde, that delay the decomposition of the body. The embalming process does not restore the appearance of the body and many families find that after a loved one has passed on, his or her face no longer looks quite the same. Because the funeral services are the last time the family will look upon the decedent, families may choose to request cosmetic services, which may be billed separately from the embalming procedure. These cosmetic adjustments can help alleviate the discomfort that families may experience when looking upon their loved one in death.

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