News Headlines > New Vatican directive bans Catholics from keeping ashes of loved ones at home

25 October 2016 | by Christopher Lamb

New Vatican directive bans Catholics from keeping ashes of loved ones at home

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The new text says the increase in cremations have occurred alongside a growth in erroneous thinking about death

Catholics are forbidden from keeping the ashes of their loved ones at home, scattering them into the sea or air or dividing them up among family members, according to a new Vatican instruction. 

The Church’s doctrinal watchdog today said that unless a local bishop agrees, the ashes cannot remain in a “domestic residence” as they should be stored in a “sacred place, that is, in a cemetery, or, in certain cases, in a Church or an area, which has been set aside for this purpose.” 

Presenting the new instruction at a press conference in the Vatican, Cardinal Gerard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stressed that the faithful departed are still part of the Church and should be preserved in sacred ground. 

The statement, “Ad Resurgendum cum Christo” (To rise with Christ) re-iterates the Church’s long-held preference that the dead be buried rather than cremated although it has “no doctrinal objection” to the latter. Cremation is only forbidden if it is undertaken for reasons contrary to the Church’s teaching. 

But the instruction, which was signed off by Pope Francis, states that every appearance of “pantheism, naturalism or nihilism” must be avoided when it comes to preserving ashes and as a result they cannot be kept in mementos, pieces of jewellery or scattered according to personal preference.  

It also stresses that where the deceased has requested cremation and the scattering of ashes for reasons “contrary to the Christian faith” a Christian funeral must be denied. 

The new text admits the large increase in cremations but says these have occurred alongside a growth in erroneous thinking about death. These ideas include seeing death as the “annihilation of the person”, a moment of “fusion with mother nature,” part of the cycle of regeneration or the liberation from the “prison of the body.”  

For Christians, the instruction states, death has a positive meaning rooted in the hope of the resurrection of the body - therefore burials of bodies and ashes must reflect this. 

While the text states that ashes of loved ones should not be split up among family members, in the past relics of saints’ body parts were placed in different churches. 

When asked today by The Tablet if the bodies should now be put back together Monsignor Angel Rodríguez Luño, an adviser to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said this is no longer a Catholic practice.   

“These are things the Church now does not favour,” he said. “Often they are buried in steel and cement so it’s not to possible to unite the body. These are things that happened in the past - I don’t think it’s worth starting a war over it and now the Church would not do this.”  

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