We preach for the salvatiom of souls.
The Dominican Family of Trinidad and Tobago




Father, I have been informed by reliable sources that the Dominican Fathers intend to launch a website and to include a Question & Answer section. Let me be the first to pose a question. This is a matter of grave concern to me because of the problems that have arisen in our family over whether or not deceased members should be cremated. Following on that is the debate among the family as to what to do with the ashes. In one case the ashes are in the living room of our home, waiting to be scattered in the Oval; in the other they are in a drawer waiting to be buried.

St. Finbar’s Parishioner


Your eally got in ahead of the posse and I am happy to be able to answer your question — satisfactorily I hope

1.         Bible Teaching

Genesis 3: 19 states: “With sweat on your brow you shall eat your bread. Until you return to the soil, as you were taken from it. For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”

Tobit 1: 20–22: “I buried, when I saw them, the bodies of my countrymen thrown over the walls of Nineveh. I also buried those who were killed by Sennacherib (for when he retreated from Judaea in disorder, after the King of heaven had punished his blasphemies, in his anger Sennacherib killed a great number of Israelites). So I stole their bodies to bury them; Sennacherib looked for them and could not find them A Ninevite went and told the king it was I who buried them secretly.” See also Tobit 2: 4–8; 8: 11–2014: 9–12.

Ecclesiasticus 40: 1 refers to the earth as a mother to whose womb the dead return.

Daniel 12: 1–2: “There is going to be a time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence. When that time comes, your own people will be spared, all those whose names are found written in the Book. Of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace.”

John 11 tells the story of Lazarus and his burial.

John 19: 38–42 gives  us the account of the burial of Jesus. The four evangelists recount the rising from the tomb.

These and other references point to the fact that the Jews believed in burial, not cremation, and that Jesus was part of this culture.

2.         History of Church

The Church did not condemn cremation in those early days. Cremation was the normal custom in the ancient civilized world, except in Egypt, Judaea and China. The early Christians did not practise cremation because of the Jewish culture that they accepted and the Bible teaching. Basing themselves on St. Paul and the reverence they had for the body made holy in baptism, nourished in Holy Communion, filled with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, due to rise in glory at the resurrection of the dead, they found it more proper to allow the body to disintegrate naturally rather than hasten its destruction in what appeared to be a violent manner. The Roman persecutors, knowing this, did not hesitate to provoke Christians by burning the bodies of the martyrs at the stake. On their part, the Christians did not hesitate to undergo danger to retrieve the bodies of the martyrs who were not burned and buried them in the catacombs, particularly in Rome.

Shortly after the Edict of Milan (313 A.D.) granting freedom of religion to Christians, cremation was largely abandoned in the Roman Empire due to the influence of the Church. Indeed, Charlemagne made cremation a capital offence in 789 A.D.

3.         Anti–Catholic, Anti–Resurrection Attitudes

At the end of the eighteenth century, a new attitude appeared in the world. A very strong anti–Catholic feeling was dominant. Rationalist
philosophers and the freemasonry movement organized associations to promote cremation to defy the Church. While at first they proposed reasons of hygiene and progress, they soon made it clear that they wished to attack Church practice of burial in the earth because they did not accept any notion of the supernatural or spiritual, particularly the immortality of the soul, the afterlife, and the resurrection of the body.

Prior to this cremation had never been mentioned in any official documents that treated of Christian burial. It was accepted in times of plague and widespread disease. Beginning in 1886 several documents and clarifications appeared forbidding cremation because of the attitude of those who openly used cremation to flaunt the teaching of the Church on the resurrection of the body.

4.         Present Legislation & Recommendations

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body" (no. 2301). It can be seen here that the history of the previous two hundred years influenced the second part of this teaching.

The current Code of Canon Law (1983) stipulates, "The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching" (No. 1176 §3). Therefore, a person may choose to be cremated if he or she has the right intention. However, the cremated remains must be treated with respect and should be interred in a grave or columbarium.

On March 21, 1997, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments granted an indult authorizing each local bishop to set a policy regarding the presence of the cremated remains for the funeral Mass. The Sacred Congregation emphasized that the cremated remains must be treated with respect and must be interred after the funeral Mass.

Here is a summary in three points:

·When cremation is chosen, the body should be cremated after the Funeral, thus allowing for the presence of the body at the Funeral Mass.

·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 in consecrated ground. The bodies of the deceased are not left in drawers or on side tables; this applies to the ashes of the deceased.

  • While cremated remains are expected to be buried in a consecrated grave, entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium (cemetery niche for the container) 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." (US Bishops)
To preach, to bless and to praise.