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Cremation

Instruction of the Holy Office to All Bishops

Since we are informed that the practice of cremation is on the increase in certain localities, in disregard of the repeated declarations and Decrees of the Holy See, and in order to prevent so grave an abuse from becoming inveterate where it has obtained a foothold, and from spreading to other places, this Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office deems it its duty to call the attention of the Ordinaries throughout the world again and more earnestly to this matter, with the approval of the Holy Father.

And in the first place, since not a few even among Catholics have the hardihood to hold up as one of the outstanding achievements of what they call modern civil progress and of the science of health, this barbarous practice which is contrary not only to Christians but even to natural respect for the bodies of the deceased, and wholly averse to the constant discipline of the Church even from the earliest times; this Sacred Congregation most earnestly exhorts the Shepherds of Christ’s flock that they take care to instruct the people entrusted to them that the enemies of Christianity are praising and propagating the practice of cremation, with no other purpose in mind than that of gradually removing from people’s minds the thought of death and the hope of the resurrection of the body, and so paving the way for materialism. And therefore, although the cremation of bodies, since it is not wrong in itself, may be permitted and is in fact permitted in certain extraordinary circumstances, for grave and certain reasons connected with the public welfare, yet it is perfectly evident that to adopt or to favor this practice regularly and as an ordinary rule, is impious and scandalous, and for that reason gravely sinful, and has consequently been justly condemned more than once by the Supreme Pontiffs, and most recently is once more condemned by the new Code of Canon Law (c. 1203, 1).

It also follows that, although according to the decree of 15 Dec. 1886, the rites and suffrages of the Church are not forbidden “in the case of those whose bodies are cremated, not at their own request, but at the instance of other persons,” still, since by the express terms of the decree itself, that rule applies only in as far as scandal can be efficaciously prevented by the timely declaration that “the cremation was decided upon, not at the request of the deceased, but at the instance of others,” it is beyond doubt that the prohibition of ecclesiastical burial remains in full force even in this case, if the circumstances do not afford sufficient grounds for the hope that scandal will be prevented by such a declaration.

They are evidently very far from the truth who, relying on the specious reason that the deceased while alive habitually practiced some act of religion, or that he may perhaps have retracted his bad intention in the last moment of his life, believe it permissible to perform the funeral rites of the Church as usual over the body, which is later to be burned according to arrangements made by the deceased himself. For since nothing can be known for certain regarding this supposed retraction, it is evident that no consideration can be given to it in the exterior forum.

It seems scarcely necessary to observe that in all these cases in which it is forbidden to hold the ecclesiastical funeral rites for the deceased, it is not even permitted to honor his ashes with ecclesiastical burial, nor in any way to preserve them in a blessed cemetery; but that they are to be kept in a separate place according to c. 1212. And if the civil authorities of the place, being hostile to the Church, forcibly require the contrary course, let the priests who are concerned in the case fail not to resist this open violation of the Church’s rights with becoming fortitude, and, having made due protest, let them abstain from all cooperation. Then, when occasion offers, let them not cease to proclaim, privately and publicly, the excellence, advantages, and sublime significance of ecclesiastical burial, so that the faithful, well taught as to the mind of the Church, may be deterred from the impious practice of cremation....

AAS18-282; Holy Office, Instruction, 19 June, 1926.

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