Cremated Remains… Treat Them With Respect

Cremation is becoming an increasingly popular choice among Catholics. Unfortunately, without a full understanding of the Church’s position on the treatment of cremated remains, the option to cremate a loved one’s body sometimes leads to disposition trends that circumvent the Rite of Committal, the final ritual movement of the Order of Christian Funerals.

One such trend is keeping the urn containing the cremated remains at home. While the final physical separation from a loved one is indeed one of life’s most difficult moments, avoiding the last goodbye leaves the rituals supporting death incomplete, and denies the mourners of the consolation of faith made present through the complete celebration of this ritual. When cremation is chosen, the entire ritual movement of the Order of Christian Funerals should still ideally be celebrated, including the Prayer Vigil, the Funeral Liturgy, and the Rite of Committal.

Preserving the threefold movement of the ritual allows for the greater expression of our Catholic Beliefs and Values, particularly the sacredness of human life, the dignity of the person and the proclamation of risen life in Christ that is now shared. The teachings of the Church instruct us to treat cremated remains with the same respect as the body, including the manner in which they are reverenced and the attention given to their transport and final placement, keeping the remains at home is not considered to be the reverent disposition that the Church envisions.

There are many potential implications to keeping a loved one’s remains at home. From the griever’s perspective, this option might be perceived as a means of comfort and a way to maintain the presence of the deceased. However holding on to a love one’s remains are a constant reminder of the great sadness held inside, this making it more difficult to let go.

When kept in the home for too long, the urn of cremated remains can easily become an object of that is part of a home’s décor, and much like the other ornaments, the urn might be moved from one room to the next, and eventually put away, out of sight and mind. There are many accounts of cremated remains being unknowingly discarded, given away or sold at garage sales. Equally heartbreaking are the stories of urns being stolen and never recovered as the result of home invasion.

Reverent disposition of cremated remains in a cemetery or columbarium that has been duly consecrated enable a faith response to the loss of a loved one. Out catholic faith teaches us that “life is change, not ended”, when death occurs. Although we have physically lost our loved one, he/she is still very much present to us.

Relinquishing our attachment to the person’s physical remains enables us to reach through the sadness of our loss to a new level of relationship with the deceased. This is only possible if we can let go of what used to be. Visiting the resting place of a love one’s mortal remains in a cemetery or columbarium, surrounded by the visible signs of our faith and belief in the Resurrection, becomes a source of strength and comfort, as we long to be reunited with our loved one in Heaven.

Bringing our Christian membership to a deeper appreciation of the threefold ritual movement surrounding burial and the respectful treatment of cremated remains brings the immortal dignity of life and death into one.

By Monique Gauthier