Cremation and the Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church banned Catholic Cremation for centuries due to the Church's belief in the resurrection of the body after death and the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic view on cremation is the cremation process destroyed the body and negated resurrection and, therefore, was not permissible. Cremation and the Catholic Church were also seen as incompatible because from the early Christian days, the Catholic teaching on cremation was that it was a pagan practice only.
Catholic Church Cremation
Following an Instruction from the Holy Office in 1963, changes to Catholic views on cremation were initiated by allowing Catholic cremation in certain circumstances, so long as the reasons for choosing cremation were not contrary to Christian belief. The official stance regarding cremation and Catholic Church members continues to be one of reluctance; burial remains the practice of choice over Roman Catholic cremation. Following a Catholic Church cremation, no prayers or rituals are permitted in the presence of the Catholic cremation remains; cremation is only allowed after a funeral mass is held with the intact body present.
In 1969, there was an official revision by Vatican II regarding the Catholic Church and cremation. Following the granting of cremation Catholic funeral rites, the Committal Rite could take place at the gravesite or crematorium. This represented a significant change for Catholic cremation, as, prior to this official revision, no Catholic rites were permissible in the presence of the cremated remains.
Catholic Cremation Rules
There were two further revisions to the "Catholic Church cremation rule"; in a 1983 change to the Code of Canon Law, and in the 1989 "Order of Christian Funerals." These revisions solidified the Church's position on Catholics and cremation. Following a cremation Catholic Church teachings instruct that the cremated remains be buried in a grave, or entombed in a columbarium.
Despite these official changes to the Church laws about cremation Catholic Church members often struggle with the question, "Do Catholics believe in cremation?" or "Can Catholics be cremated?" Catholic and cremation seem to be an uneasy mix for some members of the religion, especially those who resisted the revisions to church policies made under Vatican II.
Some U.S. Latin-rite bishops are actively opposed to Catholics cremation, and in a 1997 addition to the Funeral Rites, these bishops were granted the right to decide if Catholic cremation remains could be present during funeral Masses in their dioceses. It is likely that the relationship between Catholics and cremation will continue to be debated by the Church for many years to come, and there may be further changes to Catholic cremation rules.