It is of the essence of the Christian faith that when death comes, life is changed, not ended. When we die, our soul leaves the body and is before God for judgement awaiting the day of the Resurrection (‘of the body’, as we recite in the Apostles’ Creed).
In Catholic theology, ‘the unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature. (Catechism para. 365)’. It is with this unity in mind that as Catholics we express our beliefs through our living and the way we take care of the body of our deceased, showing our hope in the ‘resurrection of the body’.
Only in recent years, the Congregation of the Divine Worship of the Faith issued an instruction regarding the burial and conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation (rather than scattering them). There has been confusion in the past as to why cremation was ‘frowned upon’ by the Church, and even ‘banned’; it was only so when the Church lived through a time when the act of cremation was used to deny the belief in the Resurrection of the body. We no longer face that denial, and many Catholics are cremated even today. The latest instructions, contrary to some cynical opinions, are NOT about ‘Church control’, but rather a beautiful reflection on why we should show great dignity of the human body (and ashes), and to warn against drifting unthinkingly into ‘popular choice’ for the wrong reasons that may negate the very believe in the resurrection.
We believe in the Resurrection of the Body. This hope has its foundation on Our Lord’s own Resurrection on Easter Day. Through Him, with Him, and in Him, death is conquered. Our funerals, and the way we take care of the dead must reflect our believe.
Blessings, Fr Michael