Thursday, January 22, 2015


There have been fights over the cremation issue with some neo-pastors. Apparently, some, if not all neo-pastors (sad that we even have to distinguish like this) have been said to refuse a Funeral Mass in the presence of cremated remains, forcing grieving families to call around to find a parish and a pastor who will celebrate the Funeral Mass for their deceased and cremated loved one. This has added to the division in our diocese.

In the face of such diverse practices and opinions - varying from pastor to pastor, and in the absence of clear instruction from the chancery, we should be aware of the following:

• The old Code of Canon Law (1917) prohibited cremation and required the bodies of the faithful to be buried. An exception was given in times of mass death and the threat of disease.

• The new Code of Canon Law (1983) permitted cremation as follows:
1176 §3. The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.
• As you can see, the code lacks detail, especially in regards to the treatment of cremated remains relative to the funeral rites.

• This was addressed by the U.S. National Council of Catholic Bishops (NCCB - predecessor to the USCCB), in the revised Order of Christian Funerals (1985), which "contains provisions for the cremation of the body of the deceased following the Final Commendation that concludes the funeral liturgy and before the Rite of Committal.  Such an arrangement presumes that presence of the body at the funeral liturgy."

"In April 1997, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments granted an indult for the United States to allow the diocesan bishop to permit the presence of the cremated remains of a body at a Funeral Mass. Later that year, the Congregation confirmed the special texts and ritual directives (Prot. n. 1589/96/L for both indult and texts), which were then published as an appendix to the Order of Christian Funerals."
• So in the United States, the diocesan bishop may permit the presence of cremated remains at a Funeral Mass.

• Our problem in Guam is that Guam (since 1984) is not part of the U.S. conference of bishops but belongs to the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific (CEPAC). Thus the indult granted to the U.S. would not apply.

Unless there is a more recent document, the most recent instruction for the Archdiocese of Agana regarding cremation is found in the Handbook of Faculties for the Archdiocese of Agana (1996).

As you can see, the instruction does not specifically permit the presence of cremated remains at a Funeral Mass, but then this instruction dates from 1996 which is one year prior to the indult given to the U.S.

The Catholics of Guam have a right to know what we can and cannot do when it comes to cremation so that we are not bounced from parish to parish depending on the whim of the pastor or even lay staff.

Thus, if there is a more recent instruction, all pastors and parishes should have it and the families of the deceased should ask to see a copy. If there is not a more recent instruction, then there is an absolute need for one.

Recommendations by JungleWatch