Cremation: A Need For Reflection

The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires. Whenever possible, appropriate means for recording with dignity the memory of the deceased should be adopted, such as a plaque or stone which records the name of the deceased.

Reflections on the Body, Cremation and Catholic Funeral Rites
Statement by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, 1997, paragraph 417

Although cremation has moved from "forbidden" to "acceptable" for Roman Catholics, there is a need for further reflection on the reasons for choosing cremation and the consequences for the Christian funeral and cemetery burial.

  Is there a plan for final placement?
Too many cremated remains linger in closets or basements, on shelves or tables. Even though the statutes of the State of Wisconsin declare cremation the final disposition [HFS 135.06 (3) (b)], clearly more needs to be done to honor the remains and life of the deceased with gatherings, rituals, final and then reverent, accessible, marked placement. The decision to cremate is NOT the final decision about someone's funeral  and burial plans.

  Is too much attention being devoted to novelty or unusual practices, rather than simply doing what is reverent and traditional?
Maintain an awareness of the Resurrection and its future hope. Mingling, dividing up, scattering on water or land are NOT in keeping with the Church's teaching. Burial at sea means placing the cremated remains into the deep within a container, NOT scattering atop the water. Putting cremated remains into a locket or using them as "raw material" to create another object is not proper, such as a diamond, firework, reef, etc. Sometimes the short-term desire for a "send off" that is customized and personalized overwhelms a long-term view based on remembrance, visitation and prayer.

  Will there be a fixed place where visits and memorials can be focused? Will the place be suitable for prayerful visitation?
Your Catholic Cemeteries offer a variety of burial places and options for cremated remains where all this is possible. Urns can be buried in the ground in full or partial graves. Above-ground niches come in different sizes, either inside or outside, with glass, granite or marble fronts. There are other features and memorialization options available. At a cemetery the dimension of community is expressed. A Catholic cemetery is not just a graveyard, but also a place where the living and the dead together bring about a communion of saints.

Just a word about a final service: after the Funeral Mass, there is no definite date or place set for cemetery placement. It might be during a family reunion next summer, on a birthday or anniversary or some other time. But, then someone gets sick, everyone cannot gather or some other happening causes the service to be postponed. Too often, it never happens. We recommend going through with the service no matter what. Also, it is much simpler to keep your plans more simple and traditional, instead of hoping to create a whole ritual from scratch.

  Will the cremated remains be placed in a worthy container?
This doesn't necessarily mean buying an urn. Is there a worthy vessel, beautiful and significant, already in the family's possession that could be used?



A Tradition of Comforting Concern

Mailing Address
Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries
7301 West Nash Street
Milwaukee WI 53216


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