Don’t sprinkle human ashes, Holy Father says

The Vatican and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark have issued guidelines on the proper care of cremated ashes.

According to the guidelines, the cremated human remains of Catholics should be buried in cemeteries rather than scattered or kept at home. 

The guidelines do not represent a change in the church’s overall policy on burial and cremation.  Rather, they “underline the doctrinal and pastoral reasons for the preference of the burial of the remains of the faithful and to set out norms pertaining to the conservation of ashes in the case of cremation” in light of the increasing popularity of cremation, the archdiocese said.

“Following the most ancient Christian tradition, the church insistently recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places,” the guidelines say. “The church continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem toward the deceased. Nevertheless, cremation is not prohibited, unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.’”

In light of the new guidelines, some Catholics may have concerns about cremation and past decisions to scatter the ashes of loved ones. 

According to Andrew P. Schafer, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, “There are still ways to honor at a Catholic cemetery those whose ashes have been scattered and to ensure they will be prayed for as we do for all the faithful departed.”

For those who choose cremation, the archdiocesan cemeteries provide niches, graves and family columbariums where urns with ashes can be placed permanently.  For families who have kept ashes or urns at home and now want to bring them to a sacred place for their final rest, accommodations can be made to add an urn to a grave, niche or an existing resting place. 

“We want to make our cemeteries accessible for Catholics to place cremated human remains and for those who believe the church’s teaching about the cemetery as a holy and dignified place of prayer and remembrance,” Schafer said. “For those whose ashes have already been dispersed or otherwise are unavailable, Catholic Cemeteries will work with families to make accommodations to add a plaque “In Memory of” an individual to a niche, grave or existing headstone so the departed loved one will be prayed for and remembered.”

“From her earliest days, the church has always taught that the bodies of the faithful are to be treated with dignity and reverence,” said the Most RevJohn J. Myers, outgoing archbishop of Newark.   “We believe that new life comes through death, and that all of us – living and departed – are members of the Body of Christ. By caring for the deceased in our Catholic cemeteries and mausoleums, we commend the deceased person to God’s merciful love and affirm the bond between the living and the dead in the communion of saints.”

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