Cremation guidelines state remains cannot be scattered or kept at home but rather stored in a sacred, church-approved place.
Catholics are forbidden from keeping the ashes of cremated loved ones at home, scattering them, dividing them between family members or turning them into mementoes, the Vatican has ruled.
Ashes must be stored in a sacred place, such as a cemetery, according to instructions disclosed at a press conference in Rome on Tuesday.
Acknowledging that an increasing number of Catholics were opting for cremation rather than burial, the church’s doctrinal and disciplinary body warned against “new ideas contrary to the church’s faith”.
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reiterated that burial of the dead was preferable to cremation.
“We come from the earth and we shall return to the earth,” he said. “The church continues to incessantly recommend that the bodies of the dead be buried either in cemeteries or in other sacred ground.”
However, the increase in cremation since it was permitted in 1963 required new guidelines, he added, noting an increasing trend for “domestic” conservation.
Ashes must be kept “in a holy place, that is a cemetery or a church or in a place that has been specifically dedicated to this purpose. The conservation of ashes in the home is not allowed,” he said.
“Furthermore, in order to avoid any form of pantheistic or naturalistic or nihilistic misunderstanding, the dispersion of ashes in the air, on the ground, on water or in some other way as well as the conversion of cremated ashes into commemorative objects is not allowed.”
A bishop may allow ashes to be kept at home only in extraordinary cases, the instructions state.
Some people keep the ashes of loved ones in urns or special containers on display, while others prefer to scatter them in gardens of remembrance or favourite spots. Possibilities include mixing them with clay, concrete or paint to create works of art or to incorporate them into building projects, having ashes pressed into vinyl to make a musical memento, or turning them into fireworks or jewellery.
The Vatican document, Ad Resurgendum cum Christo, is dated 15 August and says Pope Francis approved it in March. The instructions were released before All Souls’ Day on 2 November, when the faithful remember and pray for the dead.