Monday 20 May 2019

Comment: Ashes ban is the Vatican dreaming up new ways to torment faithful

Pope Francis approved the new cremation rules for Catholics. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Pope Francis approved the new cremation rules for Catholics. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

As we approach the feast of the Holy Souls, when we remember our dead, we also recall the solemn incantation: "Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you will return." But nobody ever told us what to do with the dust of the deceased before now.

Some keep ashes at home in an urn on the mantle piece, others have their ashes scattered at a location that meant something to them, still more divide the ashes between different family members, or put a pinch in a locket or other trinket.

Still others take a spot in the memorial wall of the cemetery.

Until yesterday, it was an ad hoc arrangement, more á la carte Catholicism.

But the Vatican, like the EU, appears to have teams of under-employed civil servants with nothing better to do than dream up new ways to torment the faithful.

A new document released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith repeats that burial remains the preferred option for Catholics, but has now laid out a set of guidelines for conserving human ashes for the increasing number of Catholics opting for the more sustainable path of cremation.

"The Vatican has said that Catholics who want to be cremated cannot have their ashes scattered, divvied up or kept at home" said a Press Association report on this dictat.

"In newly published guidelines, the Catholic Church said cremation remains should instead be stored in a sacred, church approved place."

Somewhere that will obviously cost money.

My father, a life-long Catholic who owned a grave plot, decided for reasons best known to himself in the weeks before he died that he wanted to be cremated. I believed some of his ashes should be scattered over the grave of his forefathers in Limerick and the remainder interred with his wife when she died.

Although his wishes have yet to be carried out, that wish would now be against the new teaching of the Church he believed in.

These regulations, it would seem, are to counter "new ideas contrary to the Church's faith" which have emerged since cremation was first explicitly allowed by the Roman Catholic Church in 1963.

It took a mere 53 years for someone in the Vatican to notice that there were a few more petty regulations it could pass and, it seems, be approved by Pope Francis on March 18.

The Vatican is against ashes being kept at home because it deprives the Christian community, as a whole, from remembering the dead.

But why, then, do we have the Feast of the Holy Souls on November 2? As a young lad, I remember going into the small, candle-lit stone church to pray for the departed souls in a moving, almost eerie ceremony.

Now, of course, I realise that the Catholic Church merely colonised the old Celtic feast of Halloween, the 'night of the undead' and ironically we have re-imported most of its worst aspects via the Irish diaspora in the United States

Keeping human ashes at home, or scattering them at a favourite location would, say the regulations, give the appearances of "pantheism, naturalism or nihilism".

I looked it up. Pantheism is "the belief that God is aligned to the forces of nature", which you would imagine is something the Church would be keen to promote.

Naturalism, "a theory of the world that excludes the spiritual", and nihilism, "the rejection of all religious and moral principles", are probably not something the Church would condone.

But in outlining these distinctions, the Catholic Church seems to be imputing motives to the faithful that simply don't exist.

There are limits . . . the urinal in Mulligan's pub in Dublin - favoured by one of the characters in 'The Ginger Man' for the scattering - may be taking things a step too far.

But what could be more spiritual than, like the singer Dusty Springfield, having your ashes scattered over the Cliffs of Moher?

Most people choose beautiful locations that link the departed not only with the beauty of nature, but with an inherent belief that this beauty was created by a higher being - and for Catholics that means God.

Death and burial are emotive subjects and there are those who still believe that cremation is somehow cruel, as if it obliterates the person entirely, leaving nothing for family and friends to cling to in remembrance.

But anyone who likes old graveyards, with their sombre yew trees, ivy-clad ruins and leaning headstones will testify that time soon triumphs, nature erases names and dates and memory fades with the generations.

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust it really is.

Irish Independent

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