“Cremation is condemned by the Church as being an abominable abuse” June 24, 2015Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, catachesis, episcopate, error, family, foolishness, Four Last Things, General Catholic, paganism, pr stunts, Society, Tradition, Virtue.
If it was belief fit to be included in an 1899 Catechism, how can the opposite be true today? Or is cremation simply yet another one of those many areas where a doctrine remains “on the books,” but few bishops or priests know it or enforce it? And, hey, columbaria are a good source of income for relatively little investment, so, what’s not to like?
From The Catechism Explained: An Exhaustive Exposition of the Catholic Religion by Fr. Francis Spirago and published in 1899 by Benzinger Brothers, NY, from an Italian original:
Cremation is condemned by the Church as being an abominable abuse.
Originally the custom of interring the dead in the ground was common to all nations, for the most ancient human remains that have been discovered bear no signs of having been subjected to fire. Vaults containing skeletons have also been met with, closed by a slab of stone. We know that the Jews buried their dead; Holy Scripture constantly speaks of the burial of kinds and prophets. That his corpse should be left unburied was a chastisement threatened to the transgressor (Dt XXVIII:26). Only during a time of pestilence were the Jews allowed to burn individual corpses (Am VI:10).
The Romans in earlier times buried their dead. Cicero tells us that their graves were considered as sacred, and the profanation of a tomb was severely punished, even by the loss of a hand……..
…...In later times, when manners became corrupt, cremation was practiced among them……It is a noteworthy fact that all barbarous nations, who in an uncivilized state burned their dead, substituted the grave for the funeral pyre as soon as civilization shed its light in their land. Christianity, did, in fact, abolish cremation. But in these days, when Christian Faith is on the decrease, cremation is once more becoming a fashion. St. Augustine denounces the practice as horrible and barbarous. It offends our Christian instincts. For we are taught to regard death as a sleep; the dead sleep in Christ (I Cor XV:18), for they will rise again; they are laid to rest in peace, and the idea of the repose they enjoy is connected with the churchyard, not with the crematorium. When we commit our dead to the kindly earth, we tacitly express our belief that our body is like a seed, which is cast into the ground, to germinate and spring up: “It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption” (I Cor XV:42). [Two additional points: Christian people used to strive to emulate Christ and the Saints in all ways possible. Our Lord was buried in the ground for 3 days, and there has never been a record of a Saint not being laid to rest in the ground. By partaking of cremation, those who call themselves Christian are deliberately choosing to end their lives in a way different from Our Blessed Lord and His Saints.]
As Christians we have a higher esteem for the soul, which partakes of the divine nature, and consequently for the body, which is the servant and tool of the soul. No true Christian can fail to shrink from the horrors of cremation; only those who are lost to all sense of the dignity of human nature, to all belief in the truths of religion, can desire it for themselves. [I will admit I am somewhat taken aback by this really forceful language, because all opposition I have read to cremation previously has been much softer than this. That only shows how much standards have slipped in the last 116 years?] Let us remember that Christ, our great Exemplar, was laid in the tomb and rose again. [The key…….] For pagans such considerations naturally have no weight; they disliked the sight of the sepulchral monument, the mount raised over the dead, because it reminded them of death, which would put an end to their earthly enjoyments. For the same reason unbelievers in our own day advocate cremation. Burial suggests to them too strongly the immortality of the soul, whereas cremation appears to promise the annihilation that they desire as their portion after death. Yet let no one imagine that the Christian dreads the destruction of the body by fire as an impediment to its future resurrection, for God can effect the reintegration of the body after it has been dissolved into gaseous elements.
That concluding argument is very interesting, because in previous objections I’ve read on cremation, the idea that cremation implied a denial of bodily resurrection was a primary reason to oppose cremation’s use. The above seems to say that Christians never feared that God could not resurrect cremated remains, and so it was strictly the act of defiance that was problematic.
I think the excerpt above hits on the key point: the reason for cremation’s sudden spike in popularity over the past few decades has to do with the general paganization of the culture and the desire by people to never have to face reminders of death, but more importantly, the afterlife. More and more people conduct their lives as if there will be no judgment; they certainly hope so, anyway. Seeing a cemetary is to them a grim reminder of death, whereas columbaria are generally so well hidden one would never know what they were looking at. Furthermore, most people don’t even bother to have their ashes reposed in some sacred or sentimental place, they simply have them scattered to the four winds. All of this speaks, at least subliminally, of a great fear of death and judgment.
When some folks say: “Well, I know this good Catholic or that good Baptist, and they’re planning on being cremated,” I’d answer with: a) how do you know they are so good?, moral standards have slipped so much across the boards mere visible membership in a Church is hardly a guide to sanctity (as if it has ever been, there were plenty of depraved souls who attended church every Sunday when such was more or less a cultural requirement), and b) it really doesn’t matter what others do, what matters is what you do and how that correlates to emulating our Blessed Lord in every possible respect. The latter alone is all the argument I need to dissuade me from being cremated. I’ve never had an interest in doing so, anyways, I want my bones in the cool, green earth, not burned to ash in a hellish fire.
Then there are other factors not mentioned above: if a loved one were buried somewhere near me, I would visit that cemetery every chance I got to pray for them. I cannot say the same for a columbarium. Secondly, very ancient cemeteries are occasionally forgotten, but for the most part, cemeteries are treated as hallowed ground and not often subject to simply being paved over. At the very least, the remains are relocated, and quite often, whatever development needs to occur happens around the existing cemetery. We had a case of the latter near our former home. Can the same be said for a wall filled with urns? We’d like to think so, but what if the church associated with that wall no longer exists? What happens when the wall starts to decay and fall down? You can lift a head stone pretty easily, but walls have to be rebuilt, most often from scratch. I think there’s going to be a bit of a problem and/or scandal in a few decades when developers come across these strange walls nobody knows or cares much about, whatever legal “guarantees” may have been made aside.
One last point…….the symbolism of cremation is to me inescapable. Do you really want your last earthly act to be being cast into a fire? I’d rather be buried at sea……..