Catholic cemetery offers free burial of "cremains"

Interesting news, from New Mexico:

Rosario Cemetery is offering to bury cremated remains for no charge.

William Roibal, supervisor of the Roman Catholic cemetery northwest of downtown Santa Fe, said he’s already been contacted by a few families, including one that had stored a relative’s ashes in a closet for decades.

Archbishop of Santa Fe Michael J. Sheehan is leading a committal service on Nov. 2 at the cemetery.

“Anyone who wants to honor a loved one in a sacred place, they should bring them down here,” Roibal said, where the ashes will be “treated with proper dignity.”

The cemetery’s offer is related to concern within the Catholic Church over the growing popularity of scattering ashes outdoors, divvying them up among the relatives or enclosing them in jewelry.

In a news release last November, Sheehan called the practices “bizarre” and said they are condemned by the church because they do not honor the body of the deceased and are an affront to the Catholic belief in the resurrection of the dead.

In a message read from the pulpit in many parishes last year, Sheehan said, “Let us not be misled by the atmosphere of paganism around us, which rejects the existence of the soul, the sacredness of the body, the mercy of the Redemption, and eternal life with God in heaven.”

Roibal said there are many reasons, including the economic climate, for why families choose to scatter ashes of their loved ones.

The church still recommends that the body be buried in the ground. “It’s just been a longstanding practice to reverently place deceased in a grave or crypt,” Roibal said. The abandonment of the Catholic funeral rite, he added, “indicates an erosion of our belief about the hope of eternal life.”

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  1. Anything that helps Catholics realize that “cremains” should be treated with the same respect as bodies of the deceased is all to the good.

    Hurrah for Rosario Cemetery! May their example be widely emulated.

  2. I think that’s good that they are trying to help families who are experiencing a financial burden trying to do the right thing for their deceased loved ones. My mother-in-law’s funeral cost right around $8000 a couple of years ago, and that wasn’t counting the cemetery plot. Fortunately she had left in writing what she wanted and there were funds set aside for it. I can imagine what it would be like for a sudden death or where the person didn’t have any life insurance or a will; especially if the family wasn’t so well off.
    I too, dislike the practice of scattering ashes, and think it is inappropriate. However I don’t think we should draw conclusions about the deceased’s faith or lack of it from this. I had a couple of aunts who left instructions in their wills that they wanted their ashes to be scattered on the farm where they grew up, and where they had fond memories. They were Baptists, and very much did believe in the life hereafter. When Catholics do this, it is very likely a lack of catechesis and understanding, rather than a denial of the resurrection of the body.

  3. My mother-in-law wanted direct cremation and really didn’t care what we did with her cremains. We took them to a cove on the coast of the state we live in, buried them in it—and at high tide the waves took them to the sea—she was returned to where we all began. It was and is a beautiful setting and we, the family,think she would have been pleased with our decision.

    My parents didn’t want to be cremated, and had taken care of plots and the prices ahead of time for their services—not inexpensive. For those with limited money, cremation is a viable answer and IMO, shows no disrespect for the deceased no matter how they dispose of the remains.

  4. I think this is a good move as too many Catholics do not seem to be aware of what the Catholic Church teaches on this topic.

    Care of cremated remains

    The cremation instructions call attention to the care taken of the cremated remains. They should be treated with the same respect we give to the body of the deceased. The remains are to be placed in a worthy vessel which then is carried and transported with the same respect and attention given to a casket carrying a body.

    Their final disposition is equally important, say the instructions: “The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium [a cemetery vault designed for urns containing ashes of the dead]. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires.” The instructions also state that, if at all possible, the place of entombment should be marked with a plaque or stone memorializing the deceased.

  5. As usual, bishops are using the term “paganism” to denote “anything we don’t like in popular culture” with a deliberate disregard for what it really means to those of us who follow it as a sincere set of beliefs. Paganism had a deep theology of the soul and sacredness of the body for thousands of years before Sheehan’s religion began polishing its act in local venues in Galilee.

    I would probably find myself in agreement with some of his concerns, in that I don’t think its a great idea to have one’s ashes in an urn or makeshift container stored in some thoughtless fashion. On the other hand, I don’t consider scattering of ashes on land or sea to be irreverent at all. Though my being is not constrained to embodied form, I came into this form through the cycle of life on this Earth, and I will be honored to one day be returned to her embrace in the form of ashes.

  6. I realize that death and funeral rites are sensitive topics, particularly for those who have recently lost someone. I don’t intend to be glib in my remarks below. But I think Kenneth (#5) has hit the nail on the head: “… I don’t consider scattering of ashes on land or sea to be irreverent at all.”

    Speaking for myself, I DO believe in eternal life; I DO believe in the resurrection of the body — though the body will be transformed, not with the stubbed toe (etc.) that I have at the moment or may have at the time of my death. Yes, I want to be cremated; yes, I hope my family will scatter my ashes in a place that is special to them as well as me. I have every confidence that such an arrangement will not provide any obstacle for God, nor is it a sign of disrespect for God. The Lord can resurrect any body. God does not need the artificial preservation (embalming) provided by the funeral industry to achieve God’s ends. God does not need a casket in the ground or a fancy looking granite vault in order to make eternal life happen.

    How, exactly, is the scattering of ashes in a respectable place (e.g., a nature reserve or the side of a mountain — not a landfill) a form of disrespect for the dignity of the loved one’s remains? Think of the hundreds of millions (billions?) of people buried in pre-modern times in caskets that were not airtight, not reinforced with lead. Not to get too graphic or morbid here, but a simple wooden casket will disintegrate in the ground, and that body certainly does not stay in tact over the course of thousands of years. Graves in the ground, unfortunately, sometimes end up being relocated after a hundred or two hundred years. (In St. Louis, that was done about fifteen years ago with a cemetery that mostly housed less-well off folks, mostly African Americans, so that the airport could get more land. That decision was a disgrace; sadly, though, it happens.) Why not let the ashes float off into the sea, or return to the soil in a forest where the loved one may have felt God’s presence in a deep way? I trust God and know that God’s mercy and power have no limits. And a well-sealed grave is no protection, not in the long run, against the natural cycles that nature will enact on anyone’s remains.

  7. “The Lord can resurrect any body..” Steve, I think that is the bottom line, the power of God knows no limits.
    However speaking as a family member, I think it is nice to have some sort of plaque, marker, stone, whatever, to remember the person. My aunts that I mentioned above loved flowers. They always gave poinsettias to us for Christmas. I wish there was a place I could put flowers for them on Memorial Day. As it is, I place flowers on my grandparents’ grave and tell myself they are for the aunts, too. And if people in future generations are doing family history research, cemetery records are an invaluable source. There ought to be something to remind us that this person was here; no matter how humble, their life and death has meaning.

  8. Sorry, Dcn. Greg; #7 is mine, for some reason it posted as “anonymous”.

  9. I know the Catholic “rules” about how to carry out a funeral. But how in the world can scattering ashes over ground or water be any different in the long run from burying them in the ground? They are both matters of from dust to dust. When I visit gravesites of deceased members of my family – there is no sense that they are there. When I visit them in my memory – that is when they are truly present to me – communion of saints. My nephew loved the water – his nickname was Commodore – his family, though Catholic, honored his last wishes – although one brother and his adult family members stayed away because of their following Catholic teaching. Was this honoring either his deceased brother or his family? It was very divisive on his part. My brother was in deep grief – he did not need this divisiveness at that particular time. Sometimes being a pharisee and following the letter of the law seems not to be a Christian thing to do.

  10. I have no problem with cremation. I will one day be cremated and my remains will be put into a columbarium space which I have already paid for. I don’t feel right about spreading the ashes or putting them in jewelry or what have you.

    But… I can’t help but think of the relics I saw while in Italy. A thumb, a set of vocal cords, a head. How is this OK and spreading ashes not OK?

  11. Julett #9

    Your last sentence is absolutely correct.

    A previous comment by Frank on the “About the Deacon” section of this site contains a sentence in the same vein. I quote; “Catholics, it seems, are generally more concerned with being Catholic than being Christian.”

    This cremation controversy seems one of those times.

    My will states my wish to be cremated and the disposal of the remains to be scattered together with my wife’s.

    By the way, Frank’s post is well worth reading. It contains a number of thoughts that will give one pause.

  12. To complete my post #11.

    FYI — Frank’s post is #13 in the “About the Deacon” section.

  13. Baptized Catholics aren’t spirits who wear their bodies like clothes we toss off when we die, we are creatures of God, God who was made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and our bodies have been hallowed by baptism and reception of the Blessed Sacrament. We are made living tabernacles and temples of the Holy Spirit.

    *That* is why the Church teaches that human remains should be handled carefully, and *that* is why it’s wrong for a Catholic to have his ashes scattered to the for ones, as though we believed our end is to achieve oneness with nature instead of our eternal, *personal*, *individual*, encounter in love, body and soul united, with the Holy Trinity.

  14. Correction: “scattered to the for ones” supposed to be “scattered to the four corners of the earth”.

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