May We Scatter Ashes of Our Loved Ones?
In The Southern Cross of October 25, 2017, there was an article on “Catholic funerals: Some practical advice”. What the article did not say is when, or when not, ashes are allowed to be scattered anywhere, other than in a garden of remembrance. I have heard that ashes may be scattered or buried only within a certain radius of the church. Is this so? Sharon Vorster
We Catholics can so easily forget that we are a more tightly knit community than we think. The Church asks us to be particularly mindful of this when a loved one dies.
That loved one remains within the community of the faithful. Their mortal remains, physical body or ashes, should be interred in a place that we all know, such as an established cemetery or designated garden of remembrance.
The internment is accompanied by the inspiring words of the liturgy, which put into simple language how we are all one in the Risen Christ. We share the same baptism and sacraments, we live in him, through him and with him. Just as he rose from the grave, we too shall rise, as he promised.
Church Doesn’t Approve of Scattering Ashes
For this reason, the remains of a Christian person are holy. They should logically be preserved in a holy place that has been set aside and blessed in expectation of the Resurrection.
A minister of the Church conducts the service and carefully records the deceased’s personal details in the parish register for future generations to know. Often, a plaque or similar commemorative tablet is placed in the area.
Scattering the ashes of a cremated Christian is not uncommon. Families and friends find sentimental reasons for consigning the ashes around a particular spot that was important in the life of the deceased.
The Church does not condemn this but neither does she regard it as a fitting way to treat the remains of a member of her community.
In August 2016 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent out an instruction called Ad resurgendum cum Christo (Rising with Christ), which in part said:
“The reservation of the ashes of the departed in a sacred place ensures that they are not excluded from the prayers and remembrance of their family or the Christian community. It prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten, or their remains from being shown a lack of respect, which eventuality is possible, most especially once the immediately subsequent generation has also passed away.”
Sometimes, when people want to know about their ancestry from way back, they search census records and Church registers. It can be a comfort for them to find that the remains of someone they seek in their family tree are interred in a cemetery or sacred place, and not forgotten.