What’s the best way to go when you die: in a casket or ashes in an urn?

The Church teaches that the human body, a sacred gift from God, should always be treated with great respect, in life and in death. The way we treat the bodies of the dead is a sign of our hope in eternal life. For most of the Church’s history, this precluded cremation, which was understood as a pagan practice contrary to belief in the resurrection. However, this teaching was revised in 1963. The current Code of Canon Law states: “The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine” (canon 1176, section 3). With permission of the diocesan bishop, cremains may now be brought into the church for the funeral mass. Burial of the body is still the preferred form of final disposition for Catholics, but financial, practical and emotional considerations may make cremation an appropriate alternative. Whether the final disposition is in a casket or an urn, the remains of the deceased must always be accorded the greatest honor and respect.

Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.