The Italian Bishops' Conference is preparing to publish updated norms on funeral rites including cremation and the burial of ashes.
The manual, which will be reviewed and approved by the bishops' conference in Assisi on November 9, will explain that Catholic doctrine does not oppose cremation but rejects the practice of storing ashes of loved ones at home. The document will stress that this is a violation of the work of mercy that obliges Catholics to provide a holy burial to the dead.
Cremation was approved by Paul VI in 1963 as a practice that does not contradict the Church’s teaching on the resurrection, since it does not affect the soul “nor prevents the omnipotence of God from rebuilding the body.”
However, the document will note, a norm approved by the Italian government in 2001 runs contrary to Catholic teaching, as it allows the ashes of the dead to be kept in an urn at home or to be scattered in the wind, land or sea.
Keeping the ashes of the dead at home does away with the important rite of accompanying the deceased to the cemetery, “which unites the community of believers.” Burying the ashes at a cemetery, the “place of the dead,” is what makes most sense, the bishops will add.
Scattering the ashes, according to the Italian bishops, is based on a pagan ritual that supposedly symbolized the union of the deceased with “the great soul of mother earth,” and is contrary to the Christian obligation, established by the Lord Jesus himself, to bury the dead.
According to official statistics, currently 10 percent of those who die in Italy are cremated.