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Vatican Updates Cremation Practices for Catholics

If you’re Catholic and interested in cremation you’ll want to know about the newest guidelines from the Vatican. Learn what Catholics can do with cremains.
Vatican Issues New Guidelines on Cremation for Catholics
Vatican Issues New Guidelines on Cremation for Catholics

Over the last decade, the Catholic Church has taken an official stance on cremation as more people choose direct cremation over traditional burial. Once considered borderline blasphemous, cremation is now being embraced as an alternative to burial by most Christian faiths. However, the Catholic Church has put stipulations and parameters around the practice. 

After receiving questions from church members, the Vatican decided to update the guidelines on cremation for Catholics. Here’s what you need to know.

The History of Cremation Policies in the Catholic Church

Religion has influenced cremation from the very beginning because religious rites and funeral services are intertwined. Catholicism is one of the largest religions in the world. Whatever the Vatican decides in terms of funeral services is going to impact many of the 1.39 billion people who are baptized Catholic. That’s 17.7% of the world’s population, but not everyone who’s baptized now identifies as Catholic. More on that in a bit.

For centuries, burial was the sole form of disposition that Catholics practiced although cremation is not forbidden in the bible. The Catholic faith believes in resurrection of the dead, so burial or entombment was standard procedure. Back then so few people opted for cremation and modern cremation practices didn’t exist, so it wasn’t much of an issue. However, as cremation technology evolved the conversation around it did as well. 

Finally in 1963, cremation was first officially allowed as a form of disposition by the Catholic Church. But it could only be used as long as it didn’t go against Christian doctrine. 

Then in 2016, in response to the increasing cremation rate, the Vatican provided guidelines for cremating. While the official decree once again confirmed that cremation was allowed, it also stated that the cremated remains, referred to as ashes, must be kept in a sacred place.

Since the guidelines were somewhat ambiguous and cremation is now even more common, the Vatican has once again provided clarification on cremation practices in Catholicism. 

The Latest Cremation Approval From the Vatican

In December 2023, the Vatican released an official response regarding the preservation of the ashes of the deceased. After the 2016 guidelines were announced there were a lot of questions about what could be done with the cremains. Specifically, Catholics wanted more clarification about how cremains could be stored and scattered.

Previously, the Vatican said cremated remains had to be kept in sacred spaces, meaning burying cremains or putting them in a columbarium niche at a cemetery. The cremains couldn’t be separated or used to create an object, however scattering wasn’t entirely clear. Cardinal Matteo Zuppi asked the Vatican to provide a definitive “Christian response” regarding whether Catholics could scatter the ashes of another. 

The Vatican responded by making the rules more lenient. Now Catholic families are able to keep a “minimal part” of the cremains to use as they see fit. The remaining cremains must still be kept in a sacred space. This allows families to scatter part of the ashes or simply keep them at home.

It’s not too surprising that the Catholic Church has become more accepting of cremation. Over the last 30 years more people in the U.S. have become irreligious, which means they don’t affiliate with a religion. Many of the people who now identify as being irreligious previously identified as being Catholic

As the percentage of people who report being irreligious goes up, the number of people stating they are Catholic is going down. It’s a trend that the Catholic Church wants to turn around, and their changing attitude towards cremation is a clear indicator that they want to appeal to people who are turning away from organized religion. The more flexible the Vatican is on funeral services the more likely they are to win some of their members back. 


At Direct Cremate we work with families of all religions that want simple, affordable funeral services. Our direct cremation service allows you to save time and money with a stress-free process that covers all of the practical matters without needless extras. 

Give us a call or text any hour of the day to learn more about arranging direct cremation services.

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