In this month of November, we come together in prayer to remember our dead in a more special way. The Church intercedes for the holy souls in Purgatory with the Masses and the suffrages of November 2, as well as the indulgences of the Octave of the Dead.
Certainly, as St. Augustine tells us in his De cura pro mortuis gerenda, an extract of which can be read in matins of the day of the dead, these supplications for souls are the essential part of our concern for the dead: if they were not present, said the holy Doctor, it would be useless to honor the bodies of the deceased and their burial; and if sometimes these pious practices are impossible because of extreme circumstances, prayers and suffrages must never be omitted.
That said, St. Augustine strongly recommends the care of the bodies of the deceased themselves, in the wake of divine and apostolic Tradition, which finds its most authoritative source in the words of Christ to Mary Magdalene during the anointing in Bethany.
When Mary shocks the those present by pouring the precious perfume on the feet of the Lord, He says: “Why do you trouble this woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me…For she in pouring this ointment upon my body, hath done it for my burial” (Mt. 26:10-11).
We then know how this honorable burial office was accomplished with regard to Our Lord. For St. Augustine, the bodies of our dead should not be despised but cherished, as we do with the objects that belonged to them, and even more so, since the body is a constitutive part of the very nature of man.
Burial, continues St. Augustine, if it does not serve for the salvation of the dead, as some pagans thought, is nevertheless a duty of humanity, because no one has hatred for his own flesh (cf. Eph 5): once the one who took care of his own body is gone, the duty passes to those who remain, as a greater testimony of faith of those who believe in the resurrection of the bodies.
The precept of the care and burial of bodies is not a simple ecclesiastical precept of human origin: by its constancy since the beginning of religion, by its universality and its exclusivity among Christians, by its foundation in the Scriptures, by the rigor with which the legislation of the Church has always imposed it, it is comparable to the choice of Sunday as a public holiday.
The strength of this precept therefore lies in divine and apostolic authority, and it seems truly improbable that the Church could have the power to change such a positive divine precept, just as (according to almost all theologians) the Church could not move the festive precept from Sunday to Saturday or Monday.
While necessity may dispense with the fulfillment of such a precept in certain cases, such as Sunday Mass, it does not cease to exist.
In addition, the burial is a profession of faith in the article of the resurrection of the body. Of course, bodies will be resuscitated even if they are burned or destroyed: but by what gesture can I show externally that I believe in this truth, if not by burial?
It is like the real Presence: of course, Christ is present in the host even if I do not render him any external honor, but how can I express my faith in this truth if I exclude all external reverence, or worse still, if I make gestures contrary to this faith - like communion in the hand?
This is why the authorization given in 1963 by Paul VI for the ordinary resort to cremation is unthinkable and ungodly for any Catholic soul. It seems incredible that this is one of the first acts of Pope Montini, responding to the old Masonic campaign for cremation.
What ancient canon law prohibited about cremation, based on apostolic tradition, was only an expression of divine and natural law, not an evolving disciplinary law.
For this reason, it does not seem possible, even today, to follow in the footsteps of these provisions, which we wish to recall briefly.
Cremation, in ordinary times, is totally excluded for Christians. Of course, in times of great epidemics, this may be conceivable; what might also be allowed, in another vein, is the donation of one's body to science, when it comes to legitimate research for which human tissue is needed.
But ordinarily, when a Catholic person, in good or bad faith, asks during his lifetime not to be buried in order to be cremated, his heirs should not respect this wish, as being something impious and unjust. And if he has never retracted this wish, and bad faith can be demonstrated, the deceased is not entitled to a Christian burial: he must therefore be buried without rite, in unconsecrated ground.
There is no doubt that anyone responsible for a deceased person, who tolerates cremation when he can prevent it, if he is aware of the opposition this creates to the traditional laws of the Church, commits a fault which can be serious, even if the deceased himself had expressed this bad wish. Of course, if under evil laws there may be no way of preventing the execution of such a will, then the person would not be guilty of anything.
As for those who have never asked to be cremated, but who will be cremated by the will - ungodly - of parents or of the state, as happened in Italy during the first confinement, they can receive the rites of Church, but on condition that there are no bad examples, and that the priest clarifies the situation well, excluding the accompanying ceremony at the place of cremation.
Burning a body is a sign of the maximum possible punishment an impenitent offender can deserve, certainly not a legitimate way of honoring the deceased, even under natural law.
The Church is also careful to stress that non-Catholics, or those who are not entitled to an ecclesiastical burial, must have a place to be buried, even outside the blessed grounds of the cemetery. This indicates that cremation is not possible for them either.
This is why the burial without Christian rite and in unconsecrated soil, of aborted fetuses, if they are not baptized, is commendable, as happens in some places, to honor what are human remains.
Nothing therefore seems more timely than to recall how the Church recommends honoring the bodies of the deceased, at a time when the bodies of the dead are cremated, even dishonored in unnecessary experiments for which animal cells or tissues would suffice.
Never before has the human body been considered so much as an aggregate of elements to be reused or destroyed, for a purely utilitarian or pseudo ecological purpose. In this Gnostic climate, any unreasonable use of human remains for “scientific” or “industrial” purposes must be opposed by Christians, especially when there are possible alternatives.