Nov 8, 2019

Cremation: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the ideal order of funeral liturgies relative to cremation?

“When the choice has been made to cremate a body, it is recommended that the cremation take place after the Funeral Liturgy” (Order of Christian Funerals [OCF], 418; emphasis added). That is, even though it is permitted to have cremated remains present at the Funeral Liturgy, the preferred order has the body of the deceased at the Vigil and the Funeral Mass or Liturgy outside of Mass, then cremation, followed by committal of ashes.

What is the proper container for holding cremated remains during the funeral liturgy?

“The cremated remains of the body are to be placed in a worthy vessel” (OCF, 427).

Is holy water used at a funeral with cremated remains?

Yes. “When the Funeral Liturgy is celebrated in the presence of the cremated remains, the priest, with assisting ministers, goes to the door of the church and using one of the greetings in number 159, or in similar words, greets those present. The priest then sprinkles the cremated remains with holy water, saying: ‘As our brother/sister N. has died with the Lord, so may he/she live with him in glory’” (OCF, 432-433). Note the change in language from a funeral with a body: “In the waters of baptism, N. died with Christ and rose with him to new life…” (OCF, 160). Because the body of the deceased is no longer present, the explicit reference to its baptism is omitted when only cremated remains are present.

Is the pall used?

No. “The covering of the cremated remains with the pall is omitted” (OCF, 434). The pall is a “reminder of the baptismal garment of the deceased” (Cf. OCF, 38, 133), and its use is a symbolic clothing of the body of the deceased. When the body no longer exists, there is nothing to clothe.

Are the cremated remains carried forward in procession?

Optional. “A small table or stand is to be prepared for [the cremated remains] at the place normally occupied by the coffin. The vessel containing the cremated remains may be carried to its place in the entrance procession or may be placed on this table or stand sometime before the liturgy begins” (OCF, 427).

Is incense used during the Final Commendation?

Optional. The “Funeral Mass [with cremated remains] is celebrated as laid down in the Roman Missal and this ritual” (OCF, 428)—that is, unless otherwise noted, the Funeral Liturgy occurs as usual. The instruction at the Final Commendation reads: “The coffin may now be sprinkled with holy water and incensed…” (OCF, 173).

How does the funeral liturgy conclude when interment is delayed?

If cremation is to take place after the Funeral Liturgy, or if interment of cremated remains is delayed in order to take them to their final location, an alternate form of dismissal is used. “At the conclusion of the Funeral Liturgy, the Rite of Final Commendation and Farewell takes place, using the alternate form of dismissal: ‘In the sure hope of the resurrection, we take leave of our brother/sister: let us go in peace’” (OCF, 419, 437).

What are the proper words for the committal of cremated remains?

“In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother/sister N., and we commit his/her earthly remains [vs. “his/her body”] to the ground [or the deep, or their resting place]: [earth to earth,] ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless him/her and keep him/her and be gracious to him/her, the Lord lift up his countenance upon him/her and give him/her peace” (OCF, 438).

Can cremated remains be spread, divided, or kept in the home?

No. “It is not permitted to scatter cremated remains over a favorite place, and it is not permitted to keep cremated remains in one’s home or place other than a cemetery” (OCF, 417). “[T]he ashes may not be divided among various family members and due respect must be maintained regarding the circumstances of such a conservation. In order that every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided, it is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects (“Instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo [AR] regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation,” by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, August 15, 2016, 6-7).

Should funeral rites be denied when there are no plans to inter remains?

“Following the most ancient Christian tradition, the Church insistently recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places” (AR, 3). Thus, pastors are obliged to make their best efforts to see that cremated remains are properly interred; but, in the end, cremated remains are the possession of the family and are theirs to do with as they will. However, when “the deceased notoriously has requested cremation and the scattering of their ashes for reasons contrary to the Christian faith, a Christian funeral must be denied to that person according to the norms of the law” (AR, 8).

—Compiled by Christopher Carstens