DS NOV 2003

Christian Respect for Human Bodies

The practice of cremation has extended considerably in many places in the last decades. Cremation is the reducing of corpses by fire. While this custom has no Christian origins and, in itself, is not contrary to truths taught by the Church, it is not prohibited when carried out with an upright intention and for grave causes. Currently, the Church "does not prohibit cremation, unless it has been chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine" but "deeply encourages that the pious custom of burial of the cadavers of the deceased be kept." The Magisterium section puts together the pertinent documents and instructions that have ex­pressed the Church's understanding of the practice. Documents from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the 1983 Code of Canon Law, and from the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office (now the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith) that apply to the universal Church as well as more particular instructions from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines are excerpted in this month's issue of Documentation Ser­vice.

The Position Paper section in the article "Cremation and the Catho­lic Church" traces the genesis of the Church's centuries' prohibition of the practice. This opposition was based more on the fact that cremation was hardly compatible with the unbroken custom of Christian burial in the liturgy of the day. In the 1960s, a change was possible since the practice of cremation was understood more in its intrinsic nature that is not incom­patible with Christianity. Two articles in the Essays section dwell on the Christian view of the human body and the future promise of its resurrec­tion. A final article on History looks at the development of the practice of burial in general and of cremation in particular.

In this month of November in which the universal Church tradition­ally commemorates all of the faithful departed and visits the graves of these loved ones, a greater understanding of the Christian reverence for the bodies of the dead as well as of Christian death in general with the promise of a future resurrection will help us all.