Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cremation in Italy?

More confusion from the Times vis-a-vis the difference between 'The Vatican' and the 'Italian Episcopal Conference'.
Believers who choose to have their ashes scattered after being cremated are entitled to a Christian funeral, the Vatican said yesterday.
The ruling follows the refusal of a parish priest in the Italian Alps to hold a funeral for a local man who had asked to have his remains spread in the mountains. Father Carmelo Pellicone, of the parish of St Etienne in Aosta, told the man’s widow that a religious funeral was impossible because it was against the dogma of the resurrection of the body.
He said that scattering ashes in the countryside or at sea was a “pantheistic communion with nature in death, which is not part of our religion” – a belief held by many priests. Bishop Luciano Pacomio, head of doctrine at the Italian Bishops Conference, said, however, that this reflected an out-of-date mentality.
I'm inclined to agree with Fr Pellicone. I'm not a fan of cremation, but realise that it's allowed under Canon Law. However, regardless of the subjective intention of the bereaved or the deceased, the sprinkling of ashes seems inconsistent with our Catholic tradition of respect for human remains.
I really think that the Italian bishops could have done better than this statement:
“Church funerals will be celebrated for all the faithful, including those who have chosen the scattering of their ashes, as long as the choice was not made for reasons contrary to the Christian faith.” Catholic funerals should still be denied to those motivated by “a pantheistic or naturalistic mentality”.
One could argue very strongly that the symbolism of sprinkling ashes is objectively contrary to our Catholic funeral customs, and that such funerals should not be accommodated by the Catholic Church. There seems to be a lack of the objective symbolic value of some acts.
The article continues:
Cremation was forbidden in the Church for centuries because of the belief that the body is “the temple of the Holy Spirit” and that Christians will be bodily resurrected.
That is true enough, though it should be made clear that Catholics never thought that the act of cremation made the resurrection of the dead impossible.
Next comes the inevitable blunder:The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s lifted the ban, provided the body was present during the funeral and cremated afterwards.
Really? I don't think you'll find any reference to cremation in the Council documents.
Incidentally, the Congregation for Divine Worship's Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy has the following to say:
254. Christian piety has always regarded burial as the model for the faithful to follow since it clearly displays how death signifies the total destruction of the body. The practice eschews meanings that can be associated with mummification or embalming or even with cremation. Burial recalls the earth from which man comes (cf. Gen 2, 6) and to which he returns (cf. Gen 3, 19; Sir 17,1), and also recalls the burial of Christ, the grain which, fallen on the earth, brought forth fruit in plenty (cf. John 12, 24).
Cremation is also a contemporary phenomenon in virtue of the changed circumstances of life. In this regard, ecclesiastical discipline states: "Christian obsequies may be conceded to those who have chosen to have their bodies cremated, provided that such choice was not motivated by anything contrary to Christian doctrine"(369). In relation to such a decision, the faithful should be exhorted not to keep the ashes of the dead in their homes, but to bury them in the usual manner, until God shall raise up those who rest in the earth, and until the sea gives up its dead (cf. Aps 20, 13).

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