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Catholic cemetery options exist for already scattered remains of cremated
November 1st, 2016
By Valerie Schmalz

A “strongly worded” document from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the disposal of cremated remains means some Catholics may have concerns about past decisions to scatter the ashes of loved ones, said Monica Williams, director of the archdiocesan Catholic cemeteries.

But Williams said there are still ways to honor at a Catholic cemetery those whose cremains have been scattered and to insure they will be prayed for as an individual as all the dead are prayed for at Holy Cross Cemetery and all Catholic cemeteries.

The new document specifically forbids scattering of ashes, dividing them up between several places or people, and keeping them at home in an urn. However, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, noted in his talk with reporters Oct. 25 that cremation is becoming more and more common and it is acceptable as long as it is not chosen as a way to deny the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body.

“Caring for the bodies of the deceased, the church confirms its faith in the resurrection and separates itself from attitudes and rites that see in death the definitive obliteration of the person, a stage in the process of reincarnation or the fusion of one’s soul with the universe,” the cardinal told reporters Oct. 25, after release of the instruction “Ad resurgendum cum Christo” or “To Rise with Christ.”

At Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, a number of options exist to make sure each individual is remembered, even if their bodies have already been cremated and dispersed, Williams said.

For those choosing cremation, the archdiocesan Catholic cemeteries have niches, graves and family columbariums for cremated remains, she said. Most family plots also have room to accommodate cremated remains. For those who have been keeping cremains in an urn at home, and want to now bring them to a Catholic cemetery for their final rest, Williams said the cremains may be added to grave or niche, just as of those who are recently deceased.

There are other options too, she said. The cemetery makes provisions for those who cannot afford burial or cremation. It has also created special areas throughout the cemetery for cremated remains that offer a wide range of prices and memorial options, Williams said. “We want to make the cemeteries accessible for people to have cremated remains placed, for those who believe our church’s teaching about the cemetery as a place of prayer and as a place to remember,” she said.

The cemetery will also install a memorial plaque for a person whose ashes have been dispersed or otherwise are unavailable, so that the most important act of mercy may be performed for them – they will be prayed for along with all those buried at the cemetery, Williams said. The person’s name may also be added to an existing family headstone, Williams said.

For instance, she said, a woman whose husband’s ashes were scattered was able to add an urn with mementos of him in a niche where she would eventually be buried. The man’s name was placed on the plaque at the niche so that he would be individually remembered and prayed for at once, Williams said.

The cemetery is committed to making Christian burial, whether of a body or cremated remains “financially affordable, so finances do not become a barrier for anyone to participate in the order of Christian funerals,” Williams said.

From November 3, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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