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Can Catholics Be Cremated?

Ash Wednesday reminds us that one day we will all return to where we came from. The Catholic holiday marks the beginning of Lent, a six-week period of penitence observed before Easter. As a tradition, on Ash Wednesday, priests rub ashes on the foreheads of followers to represent repentance and death. "Remember, man, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:19) 

While confronting their own mortality, many Catholic families are drawn to us as they remember this passage from The Book of Common Prayer. 

In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life
through Our Lord Jesus Christ,
we commend to Almighty God,
and we commit his/her body to the ground:
earth to earth,
ashes to ashes,
dust to dust.

The Lord bless him/her and keep him/her,
the Lord make His Face to shine upon him/her
and be gracious to him/her,
the Lord lift up His countenance upon him/her
and give him/her peace.

Amen.

Cremation has long been a controversial and confusing topic for many in the Catholic faith. While most Americans will opt for cremation, the Catholic Church hasn’t always had a clear position for followers of the faith. This has left many practicing Catholics unsure of where their religion stands on this popular end-of-life option. Better Place Forests offers a middle ground, allowing practicing Catholics to observe a formal funeral service before being memorialized in a permanent and protected place. A place where you can return to God's creation of the Earth. 

The Church’s stance on cremation

When modern cremation began at the end of the 19th century, the Catholic Church saw it as a rejection of the sanctity of the body after death and banned the practice for followers. The 1917 Code of Canon Law expressly forbade cremations in all circumstances except in instances of public necessity like natural disasters or during dangerous infection outbreaks. 

After decades of debate, the church changed its stance on cremation in 1963 and officially allowed it so long as the physical body was present during the funeral. This means that most Catholic cremations today occur after the funeral, though the church has allowed for exceptions since 1997.

The Catholic Church considers the human body to be sacred, and death doesn’t change this fact. For this reason, the church requires that cremated remains be treated with the same level of respect and dignity that a body would receive, and that the remains be appropriately interred after death.

This means that the Catholic Church has said Catholic ashes shouldn’t be displayed in urns at home, scattered without a permanent memorial, or otherwise disposed of. For many of our Catholic customers, being spread at the base of a private memorial tree provides a final resting place that is respected and protected – and allows for loved ones to visit and show their respects. We offer a modern resting place that helps protect the earth while providing tradition and ritual for families, friends, and loved ones. 

What does this mean for me? 

Put simply, the Catholic Church accepts cremation in every situation today, though still recommends traditional burials when they are available. However, the reality is that we’re running out of space for burials, and as a result, traditional cemeteries can charge families an outrageous amount of money. The average person often can’t afford a traditional burial anymore. Today, Mexico City now digs up the dead after seven years to make room for the recently departed, and Manhattan's last two burial plots are going for $350,000

The Catholic Church clearly states that ashes shouldn’t be scattered freely or left at home. Better Place Forests offers a middle ground. Our protected memorial forests act as a central resting place for family members and loved ones to return for years to come. Ashes are spread into the earth in a single location, not scattered, at the base of your private tree. 

Our memorial ceremonies are similar to that of a traditional ceremony but in a natural, beautiful and intimate setting. During the memorial ceremony, we welcome you and your priest to the forest. A priest is welcome to consecrate the ground around your tree and hold Mass. Additionally, your private tree will be marked with a small bronze plaque for loved ones to return and honor your memory. 

Many of our Catholic customers find solace in our forests. They remark that they feel closest to God while communing with nature and enjoying the marvels of the forest. They appreciate the option to be laid to rest in a private and protected memorial tree. When you choose Better Place Forests, we promise to protect your private memorial tree for hundreds of years to come. 

Our founder Sandy Gibson founded Better Place Forests out of his desire to create a more beautiful and sacred resting place. On his parent’s tombstone is an Irish prayer. It reads, “May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.” We strive to create beautiful memorial forests that fit your faith and values. If you have questions, we’re always here to help advise the many families of different faiths that cross our path. 


If you’re just starting to make your end-of-life plans, or ready to reserve your memorial tree, our team is here to help. Book a free online forest tour to begin planning a meaningful legacy that matches your values and vision. 

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