The Malta Independent 23 August 2019, Friday

Cremated ashes must be laid to rest in a sacred place – Church

Thursday, 18 April 2019, 10:21 Last update: about 5 months ago

The Catholic Church in Malta remains adamant that when cremation is used, “the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place”.

A proposed law on cremation proposes that the ashes of the deceased can be scattered at sea, as long as it is not in designated swimming areas. It will also allow the ashes to be scattered from any aircraft, or placed in a private residence or in a designated open space. While the proposed law would allow this however, the Catholic Church has more restrictive views on the topic.


The Church in Malta, asked a number of questions by this newsroom, said that “In its most recent teaching ‘Ad resurgendum cum Christo’ (To rise with Christ), published in 2016 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church insistently recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places. This document states: ‘When, for legitimate motives, cremation of the body has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery or, in certain cases, in a church or an area which has been set aside for this purpose”. In memory of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, the mystery that illumines the Christian meaning of death, burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body.”

Asked for their opinion on the idea of ashes being scattered at sea, in the air, or placed in a private residence, and their opinion on the proposed bill, a Curia spokesperson said: “when cremation has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place. This is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world. The previously mentioned 2016 teaching affirms that for the reasons mentioned in this document, ‘the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted. Only in grave and exceptional cases dependent on cultural conditions of a localized nature, may the Ordinary, in agreement with the Episcopal Conference or the Synod of Bishops of the Oriental Churches, concede permission for the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence. Nonetheless, the ashes may not be divided among various family members and due respect must be maintained regarding the circumstances of such a conservation.”

The Malta Independent also asked the spokesperson whether, if this law comes to fruition, and the family want to scatter a person’s ashes out at sea or keep them in an urn at home, the Church would still perform a funeral service.

“It is the Church's role to dialogue with the members of a family who are in a state of bereavement. The Church, as a loving mother, would never refuse a funeral service to anyone arbitrarily. It is the Church's duty to remind its members of its teachings on these matters, just as it is its duty to urge the community to pray for the deceased, and to highlight the centrality of the Risen Christ and the union of the faithful departed with their loving Lord and Master.”

However, the spokesperson continued, “The 2016 document states that ‘when the deceased notoriously has requested cremation and the scattering of their ashes for reasons contrary to the Christian faith, a Christian funeral must be denied to that person according to the norms of the law.’” Asked to clarify this point, the spokesperson explained that this refers to when the deceased themselves requests this to deny the Christian faith.

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