Q. 1. There are some Catholics who say that the Church allows cremation. Then there are others who say that cremation was always forbidden in the Church. What should I believe?
A. 1. The Catholic Church's preference has always been to bury the dead. The ban on cremation was to oppose the pagan practices that were considered to be anti-Christian. The Romans did not believe in an afterlife. As such, they cremated their dead. The Christians of the early Church avoided cremation because of the connection with the Roman view. To be cremated served the purpose of denyng the resurrection and afterlife.
Since Jesus was not cremated, this is another reason why this practice fell into disfavour with the Christians. And also because of the belief that the body is the home of the Holy Spirit and it should be respected as such.
The Catholic Church's rejection of cremation was never intended to imply that someone who is cremated would never go to heaven. The church has never opposed the cremation of Catholics after disasters such as a plague, earthquakes or floods when mass casualties occurred, making individual burials next to impossible.
The Church also permitted cremation in extra-ordinary situations where transporting a body half way around the world or a very great distance would have created extreme financial hardship.
In 1963, while continuing to maintain a strong preference towards burial, the Catholic Church became more open to allowing cremation. As more and more Catholics became aware of this change in the law, there has been an increase number of cremations among Catholics.
Prior to 1997, cremations had to take place after the funeral Mass so the body could be present during the rite. Since then, the Vatican has granted permission to allow funeral Masses with the presence of the ashes.
To this day, the Catholic Church Law forbids cremation when it is chosen for reasons that are contrary to Christian teaching. These are:
a. Cremation is implemented for the purpose of denying the ressurection of the body.
b. The ashes of cremated Catholics are to be preserved afterwards as a body would be preserved, either in a mausoleum or buried in a Catholic cemetary which is holy grounds.
c. Ashes are not to be scattered.
d. Anything that is contrary to # b above, it is forbidden by the Catholic Church. You cannot decorate your living room with the ashes/urn of the dead. Nor can you keep the ashes in your basement, buried in your yard or in the yard at the cottage, and the list goes on.