Catholics and Cremation: Questions and Answers from the Bishops of New York State

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Catholics and Cremation: Questions and Answers from the Bishops of New York State

December 6, 2002

Printable brochure HERE.

Due to the changing trends in funeral practices, the Bishops of New York State have prepared this brochure to answer common questions regarding the important elements of Church teaching concerning cremation. The responses are consistent with the U.S. Bishops’ “Order of Christian Funerals” and “Reflections on the Body, Cremation, and Catholic Funeral Rites” documents, which were consulted as source material.

What is cremation?
Cremation (using fire and heat) is the process by which the body of the deceased is reduced to its basic elements. Cremation is permitted for Catholics as long as it is not chosen in denial of Christian teaching on the Resurrection and the sacredness of the human body.
Does the Church have a preference for either cremation or burial of the body of the deceased?
Although cremation is permitted, Catholic teaching continues to stress the preference for burial or entombment of the body of the deceased. This is done in imitation of the burial of Jesus’ body.
“This is the Body once washed in baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed with the bread of life. This is the body whose hands clothed the poor and embraced the sorrowing. Our identity and self-consciousness as a human person are expressed in and through the body… Thus, 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.”[1]
What are the steps to be taken?
When cremation is chosen for a good reason, the full course of the Order of Christian Funerals should still be celebrated, including the Vigil Service (wake), the Funeral Liturgy, and the Rite of Committal. The preservation of this order allows for the greater expression of our beliefs and values, especially, the sacredness of human life, the dignity of the individual person and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the first born of the dead.
Through its funeral rites, the Church commends the dead to the merciful love of God and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins.
Should cremation occur before or after the funeral?
The Church clearly prefers and urges that the bod