For a Catholic, the topic of cremation can be confusing. It’s only fairly recently that this practice has been allowed for Catholics since the prohibition on cremation was lifted in 1963. While burial is still preferred, Catholics are now permitted to choose cremation. There are, however, some stipulations.
If you do choose to be cremated, you can still have all the usual funeral rites, including prayers after death, the vigil for the deceased, the Funeral Mass, Funeral Liturgy outside of Mass, and the Rite of Committal. The Church prefers that the body be present during the full Funeral Liturgy, because of the belief that life is sacred, and the dead will be resurrected. Having the body present affirms the value of human life while celebrating Christ’s victory over death, which brings the promise of eternal life. However, if it’s not possible for the body to be present, the Catholic Church allows the celebration of the Funeral Mass with the cremated remains present in church instead.
The primary concern of the Catholic Church when it comes to cremation is the treatment of the remains. When a Catholic is cremated, the cremated remains should be buried or entombed. It’s not permissible to scatter the remains, keep them at home, or divide them between family members, because these practices are not considered reverent. Burial in a Catholic cemetery or entombment in a niche allows a spot for visitation and memorialization, which is important to the grieving process. One unusual exception to the rule of burial or entombment is this: Catholics who have been cremated may be buried at sea. The caveat is that it must be in a sealed container, sunk to the bottom of the water, with no way for remains to leak out.
Why must so much care be taken with cremated remains? It has to do with the holy scriptures, and their reverence for the human body in life and after death. In the early days of Christianity, it was thought that choosing cremation meant a disregard for the body and a disbelief in the resurrection. While the Church no longer views cremation in that light, it is still necessary for the body to be treated reverently, even after cremation, and kept in a sacred place.
The Catholic Cemeteries of the Diocese of San Jose is committed to providing a sacred place where you and your family can remember loved ones in a peaceful and hope-filled setting. If you have questions, we’re happy to answer them. We have three locations: Calvary Catholic Cemetery in San Jose, Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Los Altos, and St. John the Baptist Cemetery in Milpitas. For more information, contact us through our website, or call Calvary at 833-428-0379, Gate of Heaven at 833-304-0763, or St. John the Baptist at 833-428-0379.