God has given us life. “God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).
God made us body and soul. We are called to care for each person, body and soul. When a person dies, we offer a funeral. At the funeral we pray for God’s consolation for the family. At a funeral Mass, we offer the sacrifice of the Mass for our loved one to be welcomed into Heaven, body and soul.
Then, we do not discard the body of our loved one as a waste product. We lay them to a dignified place of rest. We care for the cemeteries because we care for our loved ones.
The Catholic Church prohibited cremation until the last 50 years. Why? Because there were cultures that cremated all the deceased based on beliefs that denied the Resurrection. The Catholic Church has come to allow cremation as long as it is not based on a belief that denies the Resurrection,keeps the remains intact of the deceased, and their remains are given the same dignified burial as a full body. In calling for the remains to be kept intact, it remains impermissible in our Catholic faith to scatter ashes, divide them, or leave them sitting someplace until a later date. We are to treat the cremains with the same respect do the person. (See Ad Resurgendum cum Christo written by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. August 15, 2016. Available online at https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20160815_ad-resurgendum-cum-christo_en.html )
Now, there are new means of “disposing” of bodies being developed that are considered better for the environment. I cringe at the use of the word “disposing” with regard to the bodies of our deceased loved ones. They are not a piece of trash to be discarded.
It is only in the last month that I heard of a new development so my understanding is very limited. It seems to be based on chemistry that “dissolves” the body in a way that can be released into nature as a fertilizer of the soil. Again, I cringe. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is working to provide some teaching on this. For now, the Vatican has said such methods are not permissible because it does not keep the remains intact (Letter from Cardinal Luis Ladaria, S.J., Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith available online at https://trentonmonitor.com/Content/News/Diocese/Article/CDF-Care-for-bodies-of-deceased-must-align-with-Church-teaching/4/36/30466 ).
This is what I know at this point. As our Catholic Church offers more, I will share it with you.
If you would like to read more about our Catholic understanding of funerals and burial of the dead as well as grieving check out some articles on my website at www.renewaloffaith.org/funerals.