Church teachings regarding cremation
Many Catholics today believe that the Church does not permit cremation of the human body after death has occurred. Prior to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s, that was the case. However, in May, 1963, that prohibition was lifted. This permission was later incorporated into the revised Code of Canon Law in 1983, which states:
The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.
(Canon 1176, No. 3)
In order to provide more clarity as to how Catholics should practice the use of cremation within our faith tradition, in 1997 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops published Reflections on the Body, Cremation, and Catholic Funeral Rites. The key text in this document states:
The cremated remains of the body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires. Whenever possible, appropriate means for recording with dignity the memory of the deceased should be adopted, such as a plaque or stone which records the name of the deceased.
(Reflections, paragraph 417)
Also in 1997 the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments granted an indult permitting diocesan bishops in the United States to allow the presence of the cremated remains of the body to be present during the funeral liturgy. Textual and ritual adaptations for the celebration of the funeral rites in the presence of the cremated remains were appended to the Order of Christian Funerals, the official funeral rite of the Catholic Church.