Concerning adaptation by the Japanese Church of the “Instruction ‘Ad resurgendum cum Christo’ rega […]
“Instruction ‘Ad resurgendum cum Christo’ regarding the burial of the deceased
and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation”
presented by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
To all the faithful,
I. New instruction presented by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published the “Instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation” on 25 October 2016.
With the Instruction Piam et Constantem of 5 July 1963, the Congregation affirmed “the practice reverently of burying the faithful departed.” The Congregation underlined however that cremation is not “opposed per se to the Christian religion,” provided that the cremation has not been made as “a denial of Christian dogmas, the animosity of a secret society, or hatred of the Catholic religion and the Church.” This was incorporated into the Code of Canon Law (1983) (Cf. CIC, can. 1176, §3, can. 1184, §1, 2°).
In recent years, cremation has been practiced increasingly in many countries, but at the same time “new ideas contrary to the Church’s faith have also become widespread. The Congregation has deemed it opportune to publish a new Instruction and to set out norms pertaining to the conservation of ashes in the case of cremation, with the intention of underlining the doctrinal and pastoral reasons for the preference for the burial of the remains of the faithful.
II. Dignity for the dead in burial and Christian faith in the resurrection of Jesus
Christians express respect for the dignity of the dead and their faith in the resurrection of Jesus while burying the remains of the dead. “By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body (St. Augustine), and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 14)” (Instruction, 3).
We express our faith in the resurrection of Jesus by saying: “I believe in the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting” in the Apostles’ Creed, and, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come” in the Nicene Creed. “The resurrection of the body” is not merely the resuscitation of the body but the resurrection from the dead. “By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our soul” (the Instruction 2). Only God can give us life.
III. Adaptation by the Japanese Church of the Instruction
Regarding adaptation by the Japanese Church of Article 6 (the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes) of the Instruction, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan decided to set out norms as follows:
1. Regarding the conservation of cremated remains (bones or ashes) in a domestic residence:
(1) Most people temporarily conserve the cremated remains in a domestic residence until they are “buried” in a grave or “placed” in an ossuary. This conservation presents no problem.
(2) Regarding the permanent conservation of cremated remains in a domestic residence, considering serious and exceptional circumstances associated with Japan’s unique culture, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan permits this practice.
2. Dividing and burying cremated remains in separated places or dividing the remains:
(1) “Dividing the cremated remains among various family members” is normal practice in Japan. Eventually, most people “bury” them in a grave or “place” them in an ossuary.
(2) There are people who for various reasons permanently conserve the divided remains in domestic residences.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan has given permission for either of these practices.
Regarding “scattering ashes of the deceased” and “preserving cremated remains,” those are described in the Instruction, 7:
(1) “In order that every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided, it is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way.”
(2) “Nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects.”