David Ancell's Virtual Home

Why a Parish Columbarium is a Bad Idea

  /   Saturday November 05, 2022  

During this month of November, I wanted to write about something that I’ve been seeing pop up in a number of parishes – the building and maintenance of a columbarium for the interment of cremated remains. I first saw these when I lived in North Carolina, and now there are several in Tennessee (but only one in a Catholic parish in the Nashville area). I want to highlight why this is a bad practice.

I’m not so much against the building of a columbarium as part of a Catholic cemetery, even a parish cemetery. The Church requires the interment of cremated remains in a sacred place such as a cemetery. To make this possible for Catholics who choose cremation for legitimate reasons, it makes sense to have them available. My main concern here is with a columbarium located on parish property that has no cemetery associated with it. I’ll explain why . . .

To get a greater understanding of the Church’s teachings on cremation, please check out this 2016 Document from the CDF regarding the practice. The Catholic Church once prohibited cremation as it was often done as a way to show opposition to the resurrection of the dead. In 1963, a new instruction named Piam et Constatem was issued that did allow for cremation. It’s important to note that, once cremated, the ashes are required to be buried like a body would be.

However, this instruction said that the ordinaries (eg bishops) were to ensure, through proper instruction, that “the faithful refrain from cremation and not discontinue the practice of burial except when forced to do so by necessity” and that “the Church’s adverse attitude toward cremation must be clearly evident.” In other words, the practice is not something the Church wanted to encourage but only to permit when necessary. Cremation is to be the exception rather than the rule. Burial remains the preferred practice of the Church. In fact, the need to encourage burial instead of cremation when possible is more pressing today in light of the false ideas regarding the human body that are presented by today’s society.

However, when a parish builds a columbarium, they are, by means of a bad example, essentially encouraging the practice of cremation. After all, they are allowing people to be laid to rest on the grounds of their church, but only if they are cremated. People who can and wish to conform themselves fully to the mind of the Church on this matter have to be buried elsewhere. This really sends the wrong message to people regarding the respect and reverence that is due to the body of the deceased, which was and will be again a Temple of the Holy Spirit.

In one diocese where I lived, there was a rule that, if a columbarium were built, it must be accompanied by instruction that burial is really the preferred practice. However, this is unlikely to be effective. At the same time this instruction is being provided, people are being told that they can choose to be cremated so that their remains can be interred at their church. This also communicates to people that they can feel free to disregard the customs of the Church and do whatever they prefer, which is way too common among American Catholics.

Someone once told me in (sort of) defense of the practice is that a parish was noticing that people were choosing cremation and then doing things prohibited by the Church such as scattering ashes or keeping them in their home. The columbarium was being built so that people would at least bury the ashes properly. This was a well-meaning argument, but I don’t agree. I believe it provides too much accommodation for people’s attitudes to be formed by the surrounding culture rather than by Christ and his Church when really, the truth needs to be preached.

In fact, I remember a priest, preaching at the funeral of one of my family members, tell us that what was in the casket was not our family member. I now know that is not a correct statement. It is a pagan/gnostic attitude that I’ve also heard repeated by a Protestant, though I don’t think the priest realized this. As human beings, we are made to be body and soul. When the soul separates from the body, neither are complete. The body that will decay is not the complete person, but guess what – neither is the soul! The souls in Heaven are longing for their bodily resurrection. Our bodies are not some costume or machine that we inhabit and need to be free from. They are an integral part of who we are.

There may be some people who need to choose cremation, and they need not feel as though they are incurring guilt for doing what the Church permits. However, the local parishes should not be building something that has such a potential to encourage that which is not what the Church prefers. We would be much better served by better catechesis about the body and reverence it required, not to mention our hope of the resurrection.

Category: Response

«

»


No comments have been made on this post.

Please note that all comments are moderated, and they will be posted once approved.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.



David's Pages

David's Pages

RSS Feed
Atom Feed

Archives