Instructing the early Christians on death, St. Paul reminded them that to be with the Lord, we must die here on earth (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). After receiving recompense for what we did in this life, we wait with the Lord for the end of the world. Then, as St. Paul stated, we will receive our bodies back from the Lord incorruptible so that we may dwell with Him in the new heavens and new earth forever (1 Corinthians 15:50-55; Revelation 21:1-8).
Such faith in the resurrection inspired Christians from the foundations of the Church to bury their loved ones after death. Burial not only reveals a proper respect for the Temple of the Holy Spirit that is the body but also professes belief in the resurrection to eternal life.
This is why the Church was reluctant at first to allow cremations. Those who practiced cremation originally did so to oppose faith in the resurrection of the body. Over time, as other reasons such as preference and cost have become more predominant, the Church has allowed cremation. She still insists, however, that we show proper respect for the cremains, or cremated remains.
A person or family reading this may believe that they’re showing proper respect by keeping cremains in their home. Indeed, by daily visitation, praying before them and honoring the space around the urn, they would say, they’re showing respect for their loved one.
Recently, the Church reaffirmed her faith in reserving cremains in a sacred space, such as through burial or in a columbarium. The Church teaches this is necessary so that the cremains aren’t forgotten or disrespected, even accidentally, in any way. It also allows for more of the faithful, such as friends and parishioners, to visit and pray for them as well.
If you do have cremains of a loved one at home, either contact the funeral home that handled the funeral or the cemetery of your choice directly. They’ll help you to purchase a plot and set up the details for the burial of the cremains. If you would like prayers said as the cremains are interred, contact your local parish and ask a priest or deacon to be present. That makes the event a sacred time as well.
Some may read this article and realize that they have jewelry or other pieces that have cremains in them or are made with them. Speaking with all those who have these items, gathering them, and then placing them in an urn and burying them as described previously is the best thing to do in this situation.
Burying someone is difficult. There seems to be such a somber finality to the event. Remember, though, that with Christ there’s always a new beginning and with death, it means new life in the resurrection.
This column appeared in a previous edition of the Review.
Father Mayo is pastor of St. Raphael Parish in south St. Louis.