New document offers norms for cremation

By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – Although the Church prefers the remains of the deceased be buried – after the manner of the entombment of Jesus – cremation is universally permitted.

In the Philadelphia Archdiocese, all cremations must be conducted in accord with norms promulgated by the Archbishop.

Among the cremation norms that officially took effect in the Archdiocese Nov. 1, All Saints Day, one is of singular importance: The length of time between a funeral liturgy and the burial of cremated remains is not to exceed 30 days.

“[R]espect for the remains of the cremated body, as befits the dignity of a baptized person, is ensured,” states Cardinal Rigali in the document titled “Norms Regarding Cremation in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” which he signed one month earlier, Oct. 1. {{more}}

It is not permitted to scatter cremated remains. Rather, cremated remains are to be buried in a cemetery or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. If burial takes place at sea, the cremated remains are to be in a solid and durable container, and not scattered.

The document is primarily composed of directives regarding funeral rites with cremation; specifically, rites for the burial of cremated remains before and after the funeral Mass.

Highlights are as follows:

If a body is to be cremated, it is always preferable that cremation take place after the funeral liturgy.

If a body is cremated prior to the funeral liturgy and the burial/disposition follows, then the cremated remains are to be brought to the church in a worthy vessel, that is, in a solid and durable container, which may appropriately be marked with the name of the deceased.

The vessel may be carried in the entrance procession or it may be put in place before the funeral liturgy begins.

The vessel is to be positioned on a suitable table in the same place where the coffin is usually positioned, and not in the sanctuary.

Texts should be chosen in view of the fact that the body of the deceased is not present but has been cremated.

The Rite of Committal is to be conducted at the cemetery, mausoleum or columbarium as soon as possible following the funeral liturgy. It is most appropriate that the burial/disposition of the cremated remains immediately follow the funeral liturgy.

A mausoleum or columbarium can only be erected where there is already a cemetery.

The burial/disposition of the cremated remains may not be delayed in anticipation of the eventual burial of another person.

The permanent storage of cremated remains in a private home, funeral home or any other place is prohibited.

The cremated remains of one deceased person may not be mixed with the cremated remains of another person. It is not permitted to spanide the cremated remains and retain, inter or entomb them in more than one place. The cremated remains may not be contained in lockets or other jewelry.

The integrity of the cremated remains is always to be respected. Any practice that violates the integrity of the cremated remains and impedes reverent and proper burial/disposition is prohibited.

The place of the burial or entombment may be appropriately memorialized with a grave marker.

If cremation and burial/disposition takes place prior to the funeral liturgy, then the funeral rites are to be adapted according to the Order of Christian Funerals.

The Rite of Committal with the final commendation takes place with the burial/disposition of the cremated remains.

The funeral liturgy may follow but without the Rite of Final Commendation and the Rite of Committal, since these would have already occurred.

The majority of the aforementioned norms are not new to the Archdiocese; most have been established in Church law and documented in liturgical books of the Church, said Father G. Dennis Gill, director of the archdiocesan Office for Worship.

Others are unique applications to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Whether the burial is of a body or of ashes, “burial completes the Order of Christian Funerals,” added Father Gill.

“It is the Church’s responsibility to promote the burial of the dead,” he said.

In reference to the document’s statement that the Church prefers the remains of the deceased be buried as Jesus was, the funeral liturgy itself refers to the human body “as a dwelling for the soul, as the temple of the Holy Spirit,” said Father Gill.

The faithful should also be mindful of the fact that the body of the deceased also served as a receptor of the Church’s sacraments, in particular, baptism.

Furthermore, “It’s this human body that will be resurrected on the last day – that’s a key teaching of the Church,” said Father Gill.

“Because of our faith, we believe that those who die will rise with Christ. And we believe that on the resurrection of the last day, our bodies will unite with our souls….

“The funeral liturgy teaches all this in its prayers.”

Father Gill said it is his hope that the document serves as a reminder to the faithful of the Church’s assurance that the burial of their beloved deceased will be administered “with a reverence for the faith in the afterlife and a respect for the body even in death.”

In January, the Office for Worship will conduct meetings for priests, funeral directors, parish bereavement ministry groups and representatives of the archdiocesan Catholic Cemeteries Office regarding the application of the cremation norms.

For more information, contact the Office for Worship at 215-587-3537.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or