Should I bury my brother’s ashes?

Cremation has become an increasingly popular and more affordable option when a family member dies, and many people are opting for cremation over traditional burial. One of the results is confusion regarding what the Church teaches about where to put the cremains after a funeral. Is the mantle of your living room an acceptable place to keep a loved one’s ashes?

“My brother passed away 11 years ago and the mortician asked if we wanted … a small urn of his ashes and I hadn’t really thought about it, but this urn—should it have been buried with him?” asked Teresa, a listener from Minnesota.

“The ashes should be buried together, they should not be separated and all the ashes should be interned in a mausoleum or in the ground in a Catholic cemetery or in a mausoleum or ground that has been blessed by a deacon, priest, or bishop in accordance with the burial rites of our Church. But cremation is allowed as long as it’s done … not in contempt of the resurrection of the body but it’s done for other just reasons. … The Church does prefer that we have our bodies buried, but it allows for cremation.” replied Msgr. Stuart Swetland, host of Go Ask Your FatherTM.

Our culture has tended towards an increasing disrespect of mortal remains of departed souls, and many people now keep their loved one’s remains at home on a shelf or in the attic, or scatter them in the water, wind, or at a special location. “This tendency to separate the ashes or to give pieces of the ashes as mementos or whatever—even worse … there was this custom in parts of Europe where there were places that actually made jewelry out of ashes, of cremains. Obviously, this is both morbid and exactly why the Church for centuries didn’t allow [cremation],” explained Msgr Swetland.

“It now does allow it but it does not mean that we should not treat the cremains with the same respect and devotion that we should; they should be committed to the ground or to a mausoleum that should be blessed, and the prayers and blessings, all that should be done in accordance with the ritual of the Church.”

Teresa wondered if she would have to have another funeral to bury the small portion of her brother’s ashes. “No, probably your deacon or your priest at your parish could help you with that. A little prayer and putting those remains with the rest.”