The following excerpt was taken from the 5/9/99 edition of the National
In March 1997, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of
the Sacraments clarified norms on cremation in a letter to Bishop Anthony Pilla
for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. An excerpt follows:
In conformity with canon 1176, § 3 the custom of according burial to the
bodies of the deceased is to be commended and encouraged.
If, however, the family of the deceased or the testament of the deceased
request that the body be cremated or if this is required by the civil
authorities, the funeral may nevertheless be celebrated liturgically, provided
that the cremation is not undertaken for motives in opposition to Christian
doctrine (canon 1176, § 3).
It is greatly to be preferred that the funeral liturgy take place in the
presence of the body of the deceased prior to its cremation. Suitable texts
should be identified within the existing liturgical books or prepared afresh
which take proper account of the fact that the body is to be cremated rather
than buried. New texts must clearly be submitted to this Congregation according
to the normal procedures for the approval and confirmation of liturgical books.
It is appropriate that the liturgical books be reviewed to ensure that they
provide adequately for the possibility of liturgical rites at the place of
cremation which are analogous to the traditional rites of burial at the
Experience has shown that on occasion request is made for the funeral liturgy
to be celebrated in the presence of the ashes of the deceased after cremation.
In the light of an opinion expressed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith on 3 December 1984 (prot. 99/18), and of the recent vote of the Assembly
of Bishops, this Dicastery concedes a particular permission to the diocesan
Bishops of the United States of America. By this, local Ordinaries are
authorized in the individual cases which are brought to their attention to
permit that the funeral liturgy, including where appropriate the celebration of
the Eucharist, be celebrated in the presence of the cremated remains instead of
the natural body. In each individual case the local Ordinary should give due
consideration to the various. aspects of the pastoral situation and to the
spirit and precise content of the current canonical norms. It is necessary that
care be taken that all is carried out with due decorum.
For this eventuality, too, appropriate texts should be drawn up for insertion
into the liturgical books according to established procedure. As regards the
question of new liturgical texts, it would seem preferable to limit these in so
far as possible to suitable selections and adaptations of existing texts, rather
than developing a whole alternative rite.
Finally, the Congregation shares Your Excellency's concern that the remains,
even cremated, be accorded proper respect as befits the dignity of the human
person and of baptized Christians.