Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
October 29, 2001
From dust to ashes
Growing number of Canadian Catholics see cremation as the way to go
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Gina Wheatcroft, 32, wants to be cremated when she dies. She believes that "it is the spirit that is remembered and not the physical body."
"For me it is important that I will be remembered anywhere," Wheatcroft told the WCR.
She hasn't decided yet whether after cremation she would want to be interred.
"But I don't think that it is really valuable to go to a specific place so that my loved ones can remember me," she said.
When she dies, she wants to donate most of her organs to science. "For example they can use my skin for grafts, they can take my eyes and whatever organs that can be used," Wheatcroft said.
In this situation, cremation seems to be a good option, if a person's body would be totally disfigured after the organs were taken.
Wheatcroft also believes that practising cremation rather than traditional burial maximizes land resources.
She is but one of the growing number of Canadian Catholics who choose cremation over the traditional burial.
Gary Coderre of Connelly-McKinley Funeral Homes told the WCR that people chose cremation "based on religious background and heritage background."
Forty-five per cent of Canadian Catholics choose to be cremated, with that percentage even higher in Ontario and the West. This practice although growing in popularity is not highly encouraged by the Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body."
People may prefer cremation for a variety of reasons. Among those most commonly mentioned are simplicity, lower cost of body disposal, aesthetic (not wanting the body to be in the earth) and saving land.
"They think of it as a less expensive alternative," Nora Clemenger, director of Edmonton Catholic Cemeteries, told the WCR. "It isn't always the case. It can be."
Coderre said, "A lot of times people compare the traditional funeral service versus the cremation memorial type service."
"They are not comparing the full scenarios of the two options," Coderre said.
"I think a lot of what happens is that people think cremation is cheaper but they are not asking the right questions so they end up with a more expensive option," he said.
When a body is immediately transferred from the hospital, where the person died, to the crematorium, cremation can be inexpensive.
But when the family is having a traditional service - that usually includes viewing, gathering of family and friends, prayer service, funeral service - before cremation, the procedure becomes more expensive.
The corpse will be embalmed. A casket has to be purchased or rented and cremation urns can be quite expensive.
A Christian funeral involving cremation can be celebrated in two ways: first, when cremation takes place following the funeral liturgy and second, when cremation takes place before the funeral liturgy.
The Catholic Church says cremation should be done after a full funeral, which consists of a vigil for the deceased, funeral liturgy and rite of committal.
This is one thing that holds people back from choosing cremation, according to Clemenger.
"For a lot of people, they realize that the body is going to be in the (funeral Mass) anyway, so what's the difference," Clemenger said.
In the full celebration of the Christian funeral, symbols are used. A pall is placed on top of the casket, which symbolizes that the person was baptized. This runs parallel to the white garment placed on a person at Baptism.
Holy water, which also reflects Baptism, is used. The paschal candle, which is first lit during the Easter Vigil is placed, symbolizing Christ as the light.
"Those are meaningful and powerful symbols," Clemenger said.
Newman College professor Father Leo Hofman said the preference is still for earth burial or interment in a mausoleum.
"The body is the primary symbol in the funeral liturgy," Hofman said.
The long-standing practice of burying the body of the deceased in a grave or tomb in memory of Jesus whose own body was placed in a tomb continues to be encouraged as a sign of Christian faith.
However, in particular circumstances, it may be necessary for the cremation to take place prior to the funeral liturgy.
One example is when the funeral is taking place in a location other than where the person died and the family has to transport the deceased body.
It is cheaper and easier to transport cremains than to transport the deceased body, especially when moving from one country to another.
When cremation takes place before the funeral liturgy the ashes can be present. This is permissible because of an exception to Church law granted by the Vatican to the Canadian bishops.
The Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops issued guidelines on funeral liturgy with the presence of the cremains. Some highlights include:
Clemenger's "concern about (cremation) is that our society seems to think that we don't have to go through the grieving process."
"It can just be quick, clean, get it done and we won't have to go through all of the deeply troubling experience of grief," Clemenger said.
The Catholic funeral liturgy can make a difference for people, Clemenger said. "It helps us to begin to work our way through the mourning."
Tony Obleada, 52, originally from the Philippines, told the WCR the way funerals and burials are celebrated in his country.
"It involves a great deal of grieving with family and friends," he said.
Cremation is seldom if at all practised in the Philippines because the presence of the body is seen as very important.
"That would be the last time we would see our loved ones who passed on," said Obleada. Wakes last from four days to a week. Viewing of the body is usually 24 hours during the wake especially when it is done in the home of the family.
The duration of the wake depends on whether all the close relatives have paid respect to the person. They also observe nine days of prayers for the deceased from the day the person died.
"I want to follow the traditional way we do it," said Obleada. "I have nothing against cremation but I still can't get my mind around it."
"Doesn't the Bible tell us we will return from dust to dust and not from ashes to ashes?" he said.
From the Catholic point of view another important aspect that has to be observed is that cremains must not be scattered but rather interred.
Some people divide the cremains and place them in a "keepsake urn," or carry them around in a pendant type of urn.
"The cremated remains are still seen as the body although in a different form now," said Clemenger. "So it needs to be treated with respect and dignity and should be given burial."
Most archeologists believe cremation was invented about 3000 BC. It was most likely used in Europe or the Near East and by 800 BC it became a common method of disposing of bodies.
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