Question: What does the Catholic Church think of cremation vs. a normal burial?  Are they both acceptable ways to take care of a loved one in the eyes of the Church?

Dear Deb-

Our faith teaches that all people will be resurrected – both body and soul – at the end of days.

It wasn’t until relatively recent history that cremation was permitted in the eyes of the Church.  In 1963, the Vatican declared that while burial of deceased bodies should be the norm, a Catholic funeral should not be denied to those who had asked to be cremated.  

According to the Vatican document, Ad resurgendum cum Christo (To Rise with Christ), it was determined that “cremation does not prevent God, in his omnipotence, from raising up the deceased body to new life.” 

But, it cautions, cremation does raise the possibility that the deceased’s body, which the Church believes is sacred, will not be properly respected by ancestors and relatives.  Therefore, the Church has also issued guidelines for a proper burial for cremains. After the funeral rite, cremains must be buried in a sacred place like a cemetery or another designated area.  The Church strictly forbids the spreading of ashes on land, air or sea; the preservation of ashes in the home, in monuments, jewelry, etc.; the combining ashes with those of another deceased person, or the dividing of ashes among family/friends.

If these guidelines are not followed, “a Christian funeral must be denied to that person according to the norms of the law.”    

This is the Body once washed in baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed with the bread of life. 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.

from Reflections on the Body, Cremation, and Catholic Funeral Rites, Committee on the Liturgy, USCCB, 1997

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.