RCC: cremation & burial (was JFK's burial)

Alan Q posted

A little background:

Roman Catholics for centuries disposed of the bodies in whatever was the fashion for the local culture. This included burial of the body and cremation. (In centuries past, I don’t believe anyone ever ‘kept’ the ashes specifically as the remains of the dearly departed – it would be difficult to do so with an open air bonfire.)

Then comes the Enlightenment and the rise of atheism. To cheese the RCC, certain Enlightenment figure purposely chose cremation to thumb their dead noses at the belief of a bodily resurrection. Of course, the problem was that these Enlightenment fellows and the Church were thinking a bit too materialistically in believing that the doctrine of bodily resurrection meant that this body comes back to life. The RCC’s reaction was to forbid cremation to all Catholics.

But with the scientific knowledge that all bodies eventually go to ash and a more nuanced teaching of the bodily resurrection (we get a new, glorified body like our old one, but much nicer); cremation no longer is a sign of atheistic spite. And so, the RCC does allow cremation now.

However, even though the RCC believes the body left behind is just an empty shell, that’s no reason to be cavalier with the body. During life, it is who the person is (or was). To disrespect it after death just looks bad. Besides, who wants to see the body of their dearly departed being mistreated? And so, the RCC has guidelines for how their members should be treating the remains.

And so, whether a corpse or burned (also called the cremains), the body should be intact. Just like you don’t bury mum’s arm in Toledo and her feet in Tallahassee, you don’t scatter her ashes to the four winds. And just like you don’t sit the corpse of grampa at the dining room table, you don’t keep an urn of ashes on the mantle.

Entombment, burial, or burial at sea are all perfectly acceptable and respectable resting places for the body or cremains.


Another presumtuous WAG but, many pagan religions also chose to cremate their dead on large bonfires. It is possible the RCC wanted to be a little more “removed” from that parallel, i guess saint worship and christmas on yule is as close to paganism as they dared tread.

To deal with men by force is as impractical as to deal with nature by persuasion.

I have never seen a burial. In the standard American burial these days, do they just take the body from the casket and bury it in the grave? Or is the body in a bag and they put the bag with the body in the grave? Or do they take it out of the bag?

The casket is never buried, right?

I have no more personal knowledge than you, CH, but I’ve always assumed it was. What would they do with the caskets when they were done? Reuse them?

Seems to me that cremation is the least “creepy” way to dispose of a body.

You’re joking right? Not only is the casket buried, but the casket is placed in a sealed steel or concrete container. There’s a name for this thing, but it escapes me. I’ve been to many funerals, and this seems to be the way it’s now done.

I speculate that this might be for water quality reasons, embalming fluid might not be the best thing to drink.

Actually Sweet, I think what you’re thinking of is an “entombment”, where a body in the casket is placed in a little building or whatever. Is that it? It that’s it, it’s expensive, usually done “family style” where an entire family is in one spot. That’s how I’ve seen it, anyway. It’s not a requirement in most places that I know of (at least not here in Michigan). California law only requires that a minimum of 18" of soil be on the top of the casket. Found this link with all sorts of misc. California funeral law info. www.dca.ca.gov

I found this quote at http://www.totheworld.com/fordfuneral/facts_4.htm


I know we’ve discussed embalming and such on a thread here before but I’m not sure where it’s at. Did a search but couldn’t find anything. I,personally, don’t want to be embalmed. What’s the use except for the viewing? Dust to dust.

…it has never been my way to bother much about things which you can’t cure.

  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court-Mark Twain

The casket is put into a vault even when buried below ground.

Makes grave robbing difficult. So, buried bodies don’t become worm food. I didn’t know that.

Burials must be rather expensive with the casket and vault.

Difficult, but not impossible. A couple years back a young woman was buried in Restland cemetery (here in Dallas), only to be dug up. They found her dumped by the road a day or two later. The newspaper reported how the graverobbers dug her up, cracked open the vault (thanks, kayT), and made off with her. I have a vague recollection that the vault was made of cast iron.

Sorry I wasn’t clearer before. I have seen the casket placed in the vault, the lid fastened (after the graveside service), and the whole affair lower into the ground and
covered with the good earth. These souls were not rich people, just regular folk. My experiences cover only the states of Texas and Arkansas.

Sweet, E


That should read “before the graveside service”.

A topic to which I can contribute…
I worked as a mower in a cemetery while in high school. In Kansas, a vault or pine box is required the casket is placed inside and the whole shebang is covered. Typically the vault is in the ground when the casket is lowered. Not all vaults seal. The theory (as explained to me) is that the pine box or vault protects the casket while the earth settles around it. The simple boxes do rot away pretty quickly but offers some marginal protection for a while. Most vaults do a good job of protecting the casket for long periods of time.