What is the position on cremation in other religions and in the Catholic Church?
Cremation is widely accepted in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Indian religious philosophy highlights cremation because, according to this worldview, man is created from the five elements: earth, air, water, fire, and ether. When a person dies, the fire, the constituent element of human essence extinguished, and they apply cremation.
Christian ecclesiastical authors have the idea of human, being composed of four elements, but their view, based on Christian doctrine, is radically different from the views of Indian philosophy.
Cremation is also applied with the underlying idea that it helps to get rid of the body fast. But in Indian religions, saints and children are never cremated but they are mostly buried. The explanation is that the Saints have not strong connection with the body, bodily things, and their souls can easily get rid of the body. Children also in their early age do not have a close relationship with the body, with the material, so there is no need to burn their bodies to help their souls to get rid of the bodies.
In India, widows, during the cremation of their dead husbands, rush into the pyre to be burned with their spouses. This habit is called “sati” and the origin of for this tradition, according to one opinion, is not only religious but also social because in Indian society great difficulties arise for widows. This fact contradicts the Bible, which has many orders to respect the rights of widows, to protect, to care for them (Exodus 22:22, Deuteronomy 10:18, 27:17, Psalms 67:6, 145:9, Prov. 15:25, Isaiah 1:17, 10:2, etc.).
Until 1947 in India, the women’s burning in her husband’s pyre was not prohibited by law but afterward, it was banned. The ban, however, did not stop the habit, and in rural and provincial areas, although there was a fear of being punished by the law, the custom of widows’ burning in their husbands’ pyre still continues. In India, the cremation in an open space is practiced but in big cities, crematoria operate.
Protestant churches and the Catholic Church today accept cremation but in the Catholic Church, the ceremony is performed only before the cremation if there is a body. Saint Gregory of Tatev, talking about the sacrament of the Last Anointing, about the anointing with holy oil or holy chrism the body of deceased priests, gives great importance to the presence of the body at the funeral ceremony.
Explaining the anointing of the body, the conducting of a ceremony on the body to affect the soul, Saint Gregory of Tatev says: “When the soul was united with the body, with that unity the physical phenomena had an impact. And now when the body and the soul are divided, sanctities reach the soul with the division too”.
In the Catholic Church, they put the body during the Mass, the priest conducts the appropriate ceremony on the body, then the relatives of the deceased person take the corpse to the crematorium. But in the Catholic Church, there is a privilege to conduct the ceremony in the presence of the urn with the cremation ashes if there was an exceptional need to cremate the body. In this case, the possibility to conduct the funeral ceremony is left to the pastoral charity. That is, the church pastor, after examining the case, has the authority to make its decision to conduct the funeral ceremony on cremation ashes.
In this case in the church, the urn is put in the place which is reserved for the deceased, and the priest conducts the ceremony with no changes. The Catholic Church bans to conduct the ceremony for the deceased if cremation was preferable to him because of his conviction to reject the resurrection. But if it is known that persons’ such a preference is not a rejection of resurrection, then the priest performs the funeral ceremony.