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Now Church meddles in grandad's ashes

Get that urn off the mantelpiece, immediately. The urn containing the ashes of your grandfather.

What's that you say? You were very fond of your grandfather and you rather like having him around in some form?

Plus the urn cost a lot of money? I feel your pain. But the urn has to come down, one way or the other.

Fr Paddy Jones, director of the National Centre for Liturgy at Maynooth, says so.

God love Fr Paddy, he's probably the only person in Ireland who has read the recent Italian guidelines on human ashes.

He seems to have the unenviable job of telling us what to do if we choose cremation over burial.

It would seem the Church doesn't want ashes divided up into separate Tupperware containers for sharing among the cousins, it has reservations about where to scatter them and it doesn't approve at all of keeping them in an urn in your home.

The Church is going to run out of feet to shoot itself in.

At a time when a radio presenter like Ray D'Arcy can excoriate the Church on radio and in effect apologise only for a) swearing and b) failing to make it clear that it was the hierarchy he was on about, rather than his good Catholic mother, you'd think they would realise the reputation is a tad frayed and further frayed by silencing 80-year-old clerics who say things the Vatican doesn't like.

In that context, bringing out the big guns to blow Grandad's ashes out of their comfy urn seems a bit counter-productive.

But then, the Church has always been a bit funny about cremation. For years, it was seen as a denial of the resurrection of the body. That made sense, for a while. And before you thought about it.

After all, we were brought up on images of white-gowned relatives rising cleanly from the grave, developing wings and floating happily around heaven thereafter.

It never struck us to ask how bodies buried, say, 400 years earlier and subject to the usual happy rites of putrefaction and reduction to skeletal remains would be able to reassemble, under the ground.

But we happily accepted that if you cremated someone into ashes, they wouldn't reassemble.

Eventually, though, the Church moved and permitted cremation.

Because it was new to us, those of us who cremated loved ones in the early days made big preventable mistakes.

Like scattering ashes into the wind, so we got covered, head to toe, in the remains of our loved ones. Or -- as one of Ireland's playwrights vividly recorded -- assuming a container of grey stuff sent from America was instant soup that just needed a little boiling water added.

But we got the hang of cremation pretty quickly. It seemed more environmentally friendly, for one thing, and instead of visiting graveyards, we could keep the ashes at home, although the mantelpiece may be a bit of a stretch.

Now, the Church is getting worked up about that, too.

New rules are coming down the tracks at us to govern how and where we scatter the ashes.

Or store them. Or share them.

Undoubtedly, Fr Paddy and the others involved in this issue have major concerns about the dignity of the human body, although one wonders why the Church hasn't been out protesting about the human body exhibition, which fairly raucously runs counter to any notion of respect for the dead.

They shouldn't worry, though. Whether mourners keep ashes in an urn on the mantelpiece or scatter them in the sea, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of them are bereaved, affectionate and respectful about their dead loved one.


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