Religious Perspectives On Cremation
Religious beliefs may prove essential for making end-of-life plans for yourself or for a loved one. In recent years, cremation has become more accepted in the United States due to economic shifts that have occurred in the latter half of the century, as well as more permissive attitudes towards the relationship between the body and the soul.
If your own family is religious, you should consult with a religious official and learn more about religion in general. Some religions openly oppose cremation, while others not only accept cremation but prefer it over burial.
Some religions may have previously opposed cremation but have become more accepting of the practice over time. But even if they do accept cremation, there are still guidelines for the treatment and internment of the remains.
For example, the Catholic Church prefers cremations to be done after funeral services; and the Vatican also recently announced that remains should not be scattered but should instead be stored in a sacred place such as a church cemetery.
This article examines how religions around the world view cremation as a burial practice.
Historically, Christianity has maintained a preference for traditional burial practices, but there has been a massive shift in spiritual and religious views on cremation in recent years.
Traditional burial, including the process of embalming, has become less and less popular within the latter half of the century due to economic changes, environmental concerns, and a more relaxed attitude towards the relationship between the body and the soul. The teachings of Jesus Christ do not indicate any particular preference for burial or cremation.
Certain sects of Christianity have released formal statements regarding their approval of cremation as an accepted method of body disposition, one example being the Catholic Church.
However, other sects such as the Greek Orthodox Church maintain strong opposition to the practice.
- Catholic Views on Cremation
The Catholic Church released a statement in 1963 that cremation was an accepted method of body disposition for members of the Catholic Church. Catholic priests have been able to conduct memorial services for those who chose cremation since 1966.
But there are still some guidelines provided by the church concerning the treatment and interment of cremated remains. In 2016, the Vatican announced that while cremation is permissible, the scattering of remains is not permitted, in addition to storing ashes in urns at home.
Some traditions that are still maintained today include:
-Having the physical body of the deceased present during the funeral mass, cremation taking place afterward
-The ashes are entombed in a sacred place such as columbariums in a cemetery, burial at sea, or burial in the ground
- Episcopalian Views on Cremation
The Episcopalian church accepts cremation, and remains can be held in an urn, interred in a columbarium, or scattered at a memorial garden or cemetery.
- Protestant Views on Cremation
Like Catholics, Protestants did not always view cremation as an acceptable practice, but attitudes toward the practice have become increasingly more neutral. It has not been condemned or endorsed and is generally left to the discretion of the individual and their family.
Unlike the Catholic Church, Protestant beliefs do not maintain strict guidelines on interment for cremated remains. Ashes can be kept in an urn at home or scattered. Protestant churches also host funerals for those who have already been cremated.
- The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
The Greek Orthodox Church, also known as the Eastern Orthodox Church or Orthodox Catholic Church, explicitly disapproves cremation and considers the practice to be a desecration of the body. As a result, the church will not perform funerals for individuals who have been cremated.
Greek Orthodox funeral services are written so that the physical body is required to be present for the funeral to be performed. This is because the service is written to represent the deceased singing hymns from the Book of Psalms, which are written in the first person.
The church also references the Holy Scripture, which emphasizes God’s ownership of the body and soul. Therefore, the natural decomposition of the body is the only acceptable form of body disposition.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses Views on Cremation
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not prohibit the practice of cremation, as they do not believe that resurrection is based on the physical body but rather the soul. Instead, they believe that when the body dies, that the soul also dies, but resurrection is still possible.
The Bible does not indicate what should be done with a body after someone has passed away, and cremation is not forbidden by Jehovah. However, funerals should be conducted with dignity and respect.
Funerals for Jehovah’s Witnesses are short, modest affairs. Displays of wealth such as elaborate floral arrangements or luxurious caskets or urns are not acceptable.
- Mormon Views on Cremation
Mormonism, also known as the Church of Latter-Day Saints, does not forbid cremation but does not advocate for it either. Burial is preferred, as Mormonism professes a strong relationship between the body and the soul. However, resurrection is believed to be possible no matter the circumstances of a person’s death.
“Nothing that is done to the body will, in the end, prevent the purpose of our Lord from being fulfilled. Our bodies and our spirits will finally be reunited in the resurrection of the dead.”
Unlike other sects and religions that have firm rules on cremation, the LDS church still provides memorials for individuals that have been cremated.
According to Jewish law, cremation is not an acceptable burial practice, and traditional burial is preferred. However, a growing number of Jews are choosing cremation for their final arrangements.
Traditional Jewish funerals take place within 24 hours from the time of death. The casket must be simple, constructed with only wood and no metal.
Conservative Jews believe that cremation is is a desecration of the physical body and that the body of a Jew must be buried in the ground, fully intact. Jewish law had instructed that bodies must be buried since ancient times, and opposition to cremation became even more pronounced after the Holocaust.
However, Reform Jews are more open to the idea of cremation, although there is very little statistical information to prove this, there is anecdotal evidence from funeral directors across the country who have reported an increasing number of Jews who are utilizing cremation services. In some instances, a Rabbi can still perform funeral and memorial services for Jews who have been cremated.
Islam prohibits cremation, and unlike Christianity and Judaism, there are stringent guidelines that also prohibit a Muslim from witnessing, being a part of, or approving cremation as a burial practice. Non-Muslims are also discouraged from practicing cremation as well.
Muslims believe that cremation is “haram” and that the body should be treated with the same respect and dignity as a living person.
Therefore, Islamic ( sharia ) law mandates that the body must be buried as soon as possible, generally within a day. There is no viewing or visitation of the deceased. The eyes and mouth are closed, and the body is washed three times by family members of the same sex, in a purification ritual is known as ghusl mayyit. In Islam, death is seen as an impurity.
The left hand is then positioned to lie on the chest and the right hand on top of the left hand. The body is then wrapped in a simple white shroud. The body is positioned to be on its right side, facing the direction of Mecca.
The only circumstances under which cremation is acceptable in the Muslim faith is if there is an epidemic where it is necessary to cremate bodies to prevent the spread of disease. Muslim authorities must grant permission for bodies to be cremated.
Cremation is the preferred burial practice for Buddhists. Buddhists do not believe that the soul and body are inextricably linked and practice other alternative burial practices such as sky burials. Sky burials are meant to give back sustenance to nature by exposing the body to the environment.
Buddhist cremation rites can include monks who lead chants at the crematorium. If no monks are available to perform the service, family members can also lead chants.
Cremated remains can be kept by family members, interred in a columbarium or niche, or scattered at sea.
In Japan, cremation is the preferred burial custom, stemming from Buddhist practices that were introduced in the 6th century.
Once a person has been cremated, their family gathers to perform a sacred practice known as kotsuage. The cremation process leaves behind fragments of bones, which the family members remove with a pair of large chopsticks.
The bone fragments are passed between family members, starting at the feet of the deceased. Next, the cremated remains are placed into an urn, beginning with the feet and working upward to the head, giving the impression of an upright standing position.
The family keeps the urn for a month or up to 50 days. Afterward, it is interred in a cemetery.
Hindus prefer cremation over traditional burial as they feel that it aids in freeing their souls from desire, and to help break the cycle of reincarnation and reach salvation, known as moksha.
It is believed that the physical body is vulnerable to superficial desires; therefore, it is not necessary to keep the body intact. The principles of Hinduism view cremation as an act of purification. Fire is seen as a sacred element that provides a gateway into the afterlife.
When someone is close to passing away, a Hindu priest is requested to gather with the family of the person who is dying. The priest and family chant mantras or recordings of mantras are played. Water from the Ganges is poured into the person’s mouth, either before or after they have passed away.
In India, bodies are traditionally cremated on the shores of the Ganges River. Funeral rites can take over a month, and the ashes are either scattered over the Ganges or another body of water that holds spiritual significance. Hindus who do not live in India may send their loved one’s remains to India to be scattered over the Ganges river.
Like Buddhists and Hindus, Sikhs have a preference for cremation over burial. There is no link between the physical body and the soul in the Sikh religion, and the deceased’s cremated remains are traditionally scattered over a river.
Sikhs are not permitted to erect tombstones or any markers of any kind. Furthermore, expressing strong emotions of grief is not encouraged at a Sikh funeral, and all attendees, including close relatives, are expected to behave in a reserved and dignified matter.
National Cremation Accepts All Religions
National Cremation performs services for people of all faiths, but we respect the views of those who do not practice cremation. We hope that this article has provided you and your family guidance on whether or not cremation is right for you. If you are still unsure whether or not your religion accepts cremation, consult a spiritual advisor for further guidance.
National Cremation is the nation’s oldest and largest provider of simple and affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan your cremation services in advance, we’re always available to assist you and your family. Contact us online or call (855)-469-9474 today.