The Resurrection of the Body
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that our raising up on the last day, the work of the Most Holy Trinity, will be a bodily resurrection. "The term 'flesh' refers to man in his state of weakness and mortality. The 'resurrection of the flesh' means not only that the immortal soul will live on after death, but that even our 'mortal body' will come to life again" [989-993].
Not since the time of the Apostles has this fundamental Christian belief and its earthly implications required greater reinforcement in the public square. Sadly, however, even good Catholics undermine this essential witness by capitulating, sincerely but naively, to the siren song of the Liberal zeitgeist.
Back to square one
A society imbued with this notion, viewing the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, is characterised by reverence and awe, treating human beings with compassion from conception to the grave.
A culture devoid of that sacred concept, viewing man as an empty vessel, turns from respect and care to casual disregard for the body. At best, this leads to its individual abuse, as in rampant tattooing and body piercing. At worst, to societal indifference to the destruction of human life, manifested most notably in abortion-on-demand up to birth, but also in dehumanising terminology like "brain death" (to justify plundering organs from the living) and "collateral damage" (in reference to civilian war casualties).
Hiding behind self-congratulatory Live Aid and Red Nose Days and the hypocritical fig-leaf of "human rights," our pseudo-compassionate Western culture has in fact regressed to pagan levels of contempt for human life. It now perpetrates murderous acts of institutionalised violence on a daily basis against the most innocent and vulnerable, whether in abortuaries, hospitals or nursing homes (and increasingly in private homes where deadly abortifacient contraception is self-administered). Of course there are many other contributing factors to the desensitisation behind this massive increase in every kind of bodily harm: grievous and lethal, legal and illegal, pre-meditated and random. But it all stems from the fact that the civilising Easter doctrine – revealing man as an "embodied spirit" created for resurrection – is now as foreign to large swathes of our post-Christian society as it was during the pre-Christian era. In that benighted yet familiar world where hedonistic cultures of death were de rigueur, the body was also viewed as a mere shell and similar cruelty held sway under hegemonies as smug and self-serving as today's.
So this is where we are: back at pagan square one. A predicament that calls for the same uncompromising witness to the Faith as our brave ancestors: through one work of mercy in particular.
The Romans themselves had practised burial exclusively until around 100 BC. At that time, cremation was introduced, especially to prevent enemies from unearthing dead soldiers and desecrating their bodies. With the gradual spread of Christianity after the conversion of Constantine, such pagan practices were discontinued and by the fifth century cremation ceased altogether to be an acceptable form of disposing of the dead. Apart from exceptional circumstances where public health and safety were undermined by plague or disease, it did not exist in the Western world from that time until the development of the first modern cremation chamber in the 1870s. This triggered a Masonic movement to revive the practise as a way of attacking Christianity.
At that time, as still today, there was a practical medico-legal argument against cremation: that it destroys all signs of violence or traces of poison, and makes examination impossible, whereas a judicial autopsy is always possible after inhumation. But the Church perceived that this reintroduction of cremation was principally intended by her enemies to break the uninterrupted Christian tradition of burial of the dead, thereby denying supernatural truths and fomenting anti-Catholicism through a public display of stark materialism and irreligion.
The Church therefore reiterated her opposition to cremation, explains the Catholic Encyclopaedia, since "holding it unseemly that the human body, once the living temple of God, the instrument of heavenly virtue, sanctified so often by the sacraments, should finally be subjected to a treatment that filial piety, conjugal and fraternal love, or even mere friendship seems to revolt against as inhuman." A series of proscriptions followed:
This was all strongly reaffirmed in the 1917 Code of Canon Law.
Fudge and capitulation
We know from harsh sacrilegious experience, of course, that once the practise was introduced the end was nigh. The restricted "permission" was bound to be extended and the limiting provisions broadened until, as ever, modernistic Rome found itself hoisted on its own petard for betraying the traditional wisdom of its forebears; twisting itself in knots in futile attempts to limit the damage inflicted by its initial capitulation. The Richmond guidelines tell the story:
And so the familiar corrosive progression: from allowing cremations as an exception to the norm, with a further proviso that the body be present at the requiem before cremation, to permitting the body to be cremated prior to the Mass, if put in an urn and approved by a bishop. As usual, Vatican stipulations are supposed to reassure us that everything is in hand, even as things get more and more out of hand.
The 1997 Appendix stresses that the same reverence shown to bodily remains be shown to cremated remains. The ashes are to be placed in “a worthy vessel” (reaffirming reverence for the remains), and finally buried or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium (a structure specifically designed to hold cremated remains); the ashes are not to be scattered or sprinkled, since such actions are not in keeping with the reverence and respect the Church expects to be shown to the bodies of the deceased.
All well and good. But does anyone seriously believe that such conditions are strictly and consistently adhered to? Any more than all the others that were disregarded until acts of disobedience were finally legitimised? Does Rome even care that they have opened the floodgates to ever increasing numbers of dumbed-down Roman Protestants spreading the ashes of the deceased in parks, woods, and oceans, or keeping them in an urn at home?
"It is impossible that scandals should not come: but woe to him through whom they come" [Luke 17:1]. While Rome does not invite sacrilegious acts, its cremation free-for-all adds to the Pandora's Box of temptations and scandals opened up by Vatican II and the option-riddled, sacrilege-inducing Novus Ordo. A familiar tale of appeasement and scandalous consequences, it's Communion in the hand and altar girls all over again. What the Masons and fellow-travelling secularists could not achieve by their own efforts, post-conciliar Rome has once more done for them.
A Masonic movement from the outset, how unsurprising that secularism remains the default setting and driving force of the burgeoning cremation industry! And yet Catholics have bought into the normalcy of cremation with nary a thought for its roots and religious implications. That they are undermining Christian doctrine via this practise, albeit indirectly, while simultaneously reinforcing a secular outlook, completely escapes them.
All manner of feeble excuses are trotted out to rationalise this thoughtless complicity, especially cost and environmental concerns. If the past forty years have taught us anything at all, however, it is that departing from tradition yields nothing but madness and sacrilege, while anticipated benefits soon unravel.
Accordingly, although in Britain around seven out of ten currently opt for the cheaper option of cremation, costs are already rising due to investment in multi-million dollar machines needed to meet environmental protection regulations aimed at limiting the amount of smoke, dust, ash and harmful gases (including high levels of mercury, from dental fillings) emitted by crematoria. Furthermore, from a Catholic perspective, while "immediate cremation" – i.e. within 48 hours of death – can be cheaper than traditional burial, the Church discourages immediate cremation because the life of the deceased should be remembered in the presence of the body and it prohibits friends and family members of the deceased from engaging in the grieving process.
As for insanity and horror, both actual and in train, there is no end. For starters, although the attendants attempt to remove all of the remains after the 3 to 5 hour incineration process, a small portion will be left inside the cremation chamber, and subsequently mingled with the next body to be cremated.
Meanwhile, the search for ever cheaper ways to dispose of bodies is giving rise to increasingly creepy methods. Eco-friendly freeze-drying of corpses in liquid nitrogen, known as "promession," is already under serious consideration by many councils. It involves dipping the body in -196C liquid nitrogen until it is brittle, and then placing it on a vibrating mat so it disintegrates into powder. A magnetic field then removes metal objects like fillings and artificial limbs from the remains. The Church of England says it has no objection to this bizarre process in principle, provided it is done with dignity and reverence!?
And what about other developments, such as: "resomation," in which a British firm boils bodies to dust by submerging them in water and heating them to 150C; plans for corpses to be stored for days in coffins or body bags in local authority buildings so they can be incinerated in one go; and ghoulish environmental plans for councils to capture the gases emitted by cremation and use them to heat radiators or even generate electricity. Are we to accept these and all the kinky pulverisations and eco-lunacies to come, as long as they are done with "dignity and reverence"?Pleeeze!
Instead, they argue that they are a "neutral" about the method. How terribly open-minded. "Progressive," even. Yet if it doesn't matter either way, why not give the benefit of the doubt to two-thousand years of custom and sentiment based on Holy Scripture and the personal example of their Lord and Saviour?
But the threat to Catholic belief from cremation is a thing of the past, they retort. It no longer calls Catholic doctrine into question, so it undermines nothing and no-one! This view betrays a careless disregard for the evil roots of the cremation industry and its enduring contribution to the rise of secular culture through a symbolic reinforcement of naturalism over and above the supernatural. It is also a deeply pessimistic approach that blithely abandons our heritage and negates pro-active Catholic witness!
A ceremony honed over millennia, Catholic burial, like all our sacramental and pastoral actions, has an educative missionary role. A graveside ritual evokes the Four Last Things like no other; opening hearts and minds of all stripes to supernatural verities and the teachings of the Church, even subconsciously. Yet cremators find that claim exaggerated; a wishful relic of a pious, bygone age more receptive to religious symbolism. They are badly mistaken. The simplest public witness to Catholic faith and tradition still retains its singular God-given power to effect a profound response, both social and spiritual, even in the most irreligious and hostile of modern settings. Unplanned, the dramatic conversion story reviewed herein, testifies to the fact. Those inclined to cremation should reflect especially on the episode involving Sister Marie Bernadette, and re-think whether the gradual disappearance of our traditional rite of burial from common public view is no big deal.
As with Communion in the hand and altar girls, there is also a disconnect between the individual choice and the universal consequences of the practise endorsed. The respectful practitioner of Communion in the hand and the sincere parent who, with the best of misguided intentions, encourages a daughter to serve at the altar, both think and act in Protestant-like isolation. Since Rome has validated their choice, they accept no responsibility for their personal example which helps sustain the corrosive effect of these practises on faith and belief. They simply ignore their indirect contributions either to widespread Eucharistic sacrilege and diminishing belief in the Real Presence, or to the undermining of priestly vocations.
Similarly, the pro-life cremation-Catholic does not consider the far-reaching consequences of his choice: dismissing its contribution to the undermining of belief in the resurrection of the body, while failing to see how that fuels diminishing reverence and respect for human life. At the same time, he denies his indirect contribution to the disobedient and sacrilegious treatment of ashes that inevitably follows cremation-on-demand. As ever, the smug and facile response is that the Church allows it – so lump it!
The better choice
Now that the secular values of the Lodge suffuse the West and it controls societies vicariously, any such obligation, at least initially, will be likewise indirect. Just as pressure is building for coercive "opt out" organ donation schemes, so scaremongering about "land shortages" will slowly increase social pressure to choose cremation only. But while we still have a free choice, the voice of Scripture, like Our Lord's example, calls us to stand firm in our traditional witness. Most references to burning of a body in the Bible are instances of: punishment for crimes or improper behaviour, killings by pagans, or destruction of idols and evil material. St. Paul certainly appears to favour burial, discussing how God will raise the decomposed body of a believer. The symbolism used is that of planting a seed and having new life rise from the decaying seed [1 Cor. 15:35-44].
All of which adds up to "what the Christian faith has ever held in this regard." In his dialogue Octavius, refuting the assertion that cremation made bodily resurrection an impossibility, the third-century writer Minucius Felix put it very simply:
In these neo-pagan times, let us hold to that superior tradition with the faith and tenacity of catacomb-Catholics! Witnessing thereby to our supernatural belief in the sanctity of the human body, from conception to burial, in view of its glorious transformation and reunion with the soul at the coming of our Resurrected Lord.