The news that a first cousin and her daughter had passed away wasn’t a shock, but entering the funeral parlor was. There before me were two urns containing the ashes of each one. It had been a while since the last funeral viewing and I was not prepared to look upon containers with what once was a cousin I had known from childhood and her daughter.
Since that viewing there were at least two more funerals with cremated remains of a relative or close friend. It isn’t that this surprises me, but the manner of this choice seems to be more the method for funerals by should I say millennials. Certainly cost might be one criterion and perhaps less time for viewing cutting the expense down considerably. I know our son’s funeral in January was close to 12,000 dollars. This did not include burial plot or other accrued expenses.
However, as Catholics we learned that the Romans cremated their dead due to the belief that there is no afterlife. Christians subsequently associated cremation with Pagan societies of Rome and Greece, which was one reason the Church rejected cremation. We learned from Genesis 1: 26-27 which teaches an extreme respect for the human body, both in life and death. (cf Cremation Institute “Expert advice on Cremation”) on-line. The belief in the resurrection of the body after death became a custom of burying the dead in tombs.
According to Canon Law, in 1917, the Church allowed cremation only in times of plague, disaster, or other situations that required a quick disposal of bodies. The Catholic Church changed its policy in 1963 lifting the ban on cremation due to sanitation problems, overcrowded cemeteries, or financial reasons. But, there was one exception. Cremation was not permitted if it was meant to provoke the Church. However, a preference would allow a funeral ceremony before the body was to be cremated.
In 1997 the Church changed allowing the funeral to be performed in the presence of the cremated body. The reason was if there was not a presence of the deceased in some form, it might interfere with a healthy mourning by relatives and friends.
My concern about the thrust to cremate appears to shed disrespect for our deceased and can only add to the reason of ignoring them as soon as they are cremated. We can be thankful that many persons still visit their loved ones at cemeteries and perhaps even pray for their souls. It still is respectful with a sense of reverence to remember those whom we have lost. Let us not bury the remembrance of our loved ones in an urn.
One sad item, due to the current Covid-19, is without Masses for the deceased with our presence is disheartening. Priests are still honoring these Masses but how easy it becomes to slowly push their memory into infinity. It is understandable that cremations en masse may be necessary in some areas because of the many hundreds and thousands of deaths from the virus. This article is not aimed at this situation.
Too many persons in today’s society of fast living appear to have forgotten basic teaching regarding the resurrection of our bodies and seem to pass over rather quickly what death/resurrection means and how each of us will go through that same metamorphosis (renewed in spirit and in the final resurrection; change). cf 2 Cor. 2 :15; Phil 2: 5 - 7a.
As a closing thought, if you have an extra few moments during the day or evening, take a drive through a cemetery and even get out of your car and walk along the roads therein. You may find that it isn’t spooky or frightening. There is a sense of peace in a place that is hallowed ground where our relatives and friends rest in a peaceful atmosphere.
Ralph B. Hathaway, April 2020