Before You Decide
Death is a topic most of us prefer to ignore, whether it is our own or another’s. However, it is wise and kind to make arrangements for our own passing to alleviate a lot of stress for our families. Before you decide about making those final arrangements consider first whether your choices will effect your own soul and consider whether your choices will create conflict for anyone in the family.
Of course, when a loved one dies we are all about respecting their wishes. I would suggest to the living that they consider the conflicts that may arise in the family because of their choices. Conflicts at such an emotional time sometimes devolve into long term rifts in family relationships, being aware that children and parents may have very different opinions about what should take place after their passing. This can also happen among siblings.
My husband and I had been asked by our Pastor to assist a long time parishioner, living in a nursing home, to get to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. He was a delight and was so happy to be able to get to Mass. During this period his daughter in another State, expressed gratitude for our services and was very gracious to talk with. When our friend died, his funeral was in a shabby funeral parlor, the family did not stand to greet visitors nor make small talk. There were no flowers. It was cold. The daughter seemed to say as little as possible to us. However the greater shock was that there was no funeral Mass nor a Catholic Burial. His church friends were very saddened to be unable to send him off with a Mass, but did the next best thing and had Masses said for him. Many thought it very disrespectful to deprive him of this final and glorious expression of his faith.
Cremation has become a more frequent burial option for Catholics since the last half of the twentieth century. In recent years it has become more common place. For many, the scattering of the cremains in some favorite place has been a sentimental act of love and respect for the deceased’s wishes. I believe that this is due mainly to ignorance about the sacredness of the human body and a lack of catechesis on the part of the church regarding cremation and treatment of the body even in death.
To the new Christian converts in Corinth, St. Paul said, “Don’t you know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (1Cor. 6: 13-15) They had. just been baptized into Christ’s body. Christianity is the religion of God’s union with humanity, when His Son took on human flesh and sanctified the flesh of all of us.
Our bodies belong to God for He made them. (contrary to feminist rhetoric). Our body is not our private property per se, nor is it the property of the family to dispose of as they wish because the deceased is a daughter or son of God and the body should be given due honors. A problem arises when the deceased did not think ahead about how the family may feel about the manner of burial.
Scattering ashes is not a reverent disposition of the cremains that were baptized and made holy at the beginning of life. The sacred vessel of the human body contained its soul. It’s not just flesh and bones. Do you really want to see your loved one blowing in the wind and landing on who knows what? Neither is it appropriate to separate the cremains into jewelry which one day will be meaningless to a future generation. These things cause family tension when beliefs differ. These things should be discussed before hand with the family and pastor then put in writing. There still may be disagreement but at least all parties’ beliefs and convictions would have been considered.
Whether a person will be buried in a casket or cremated and interred in a respectable vessel in a columbarium or in the ground is basically the options available to Catholics.
One of Pope John Paul II most significant encyclicals was “The Theology of the Body”. It’s content was aimed at sexual relations, but his prose is almost poetry in describing the holiness and sacredness of the human body itself. He said,”The body is so good you can’t even fathom it. It is the hinge of our salvation. Catholicism is a very fleshy religion. Every sacrament touches some part of the body.”
In some sense the body is a sacrament because it is what makes visible the invisibility of God. Christianity is how God reveals himself. He created us in His own image therefore the living and deceased body deserves the utmost respect which supersedes anyone’s personal wishes. So before you make your funeral arrangements, consider the teachings of the Church, consider how each family member may feel about your choices. Will it cause conflict of conscience or family conflict.