Changing Catholic Attitudes about Cremation | Jim Graves | Catholic World Report
Since the ban on cremations was lifted in the 1960s, the practice has been on the rise among Catholics.
Cremation of human remains was prohibited by Catholic authorities for much of the history of the Church. Today, it is not only allowed, but growing in popularity among the faithful, according to Monica Williams, Director of Cemeteries for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Nearly a third of Catholic families in the archdiocese opt for cremation, she said, as more people come to accept it.
“It takes time for family traditions to change,” Williams said. “More people are choosing cremation as an alternative.”
While full-body burial remains the Church’s preferred choice, there are practical reasons for cremation. Cost is one; cremation can shave thousands off the $6,000-8,000 cost of burial. Another is that families can inter cremated remains in family plots, which have limited space. Some argue it is a more ecologically-friendly choice, Williams said, as less open space and materials are required for cremation.
Church permits cremation
Cremation is the process of reducing a body to bone fragments through the application of intense heat. The bone fragments are then pulverized, placed in a container and returned to the family. Regarding its morality, the Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes a single sentence to cremation: “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body” (no. 2301).
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, while noting that cremation is permitted, stresses that the Church holds a preference for full-body burial. The USCCB explained, “The Church’s reverence and care for the body grows out of a reverence and concern for the person whom the Church now commends to the care of God.… The human body is so inextricably associated with the human person that it is hard to think of a human person apart from his or her body.”
Church authorities banned the practice of cremation centuries ago to counter the ancient Roman practice of cremating the body as a rejection of the existence of an afterlife. Scripture teaches that man is made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and therefore the body must be respected in both this life and the next. The body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, must be treated with respect.
While cremation was common in the ancient world, by the fifth century it had been largely abandoned in the Roman Empire due to Christian influence. Today more than a third of Americans opt for cremation; some nations, like Japan, have a nearly 100 percent cremation rate.