Canon Law

I was asked a question about Catholics, cremation and the scattering of ash. Here is my brief answer:

Ancient cremation practices

The whole issue of cremation goes back to the Romans. They denied the bodily resurrection so they often burned the body and if they were rich they put the ashes in urns and put them in the necropolis which was the city of the dead. Every year on the anniversary of the death they would “visit” the dead in remembrance and pour their favorite wine into the ashes. 

Imagine the contrast in ancient times. The Romans would build a pyre and lay the body on top. The flames would take many hours to completely consume the body. The whole time the smell of burning hair and flesh would waft through the air. It was a big project and you watched the body disappear with nothing left but a heap of ashes and foul smells.

In contrast, the Christians prepared sarcophagi for their dead. Often it was decorated with biblical images related to the resurrection. Or the body was carefully wrapped in white to represent forgiveness of sins and eternal life. They were placed in the ground or the catacombs with respect for the integrity of the body which would one day be raised.

Christians forbid cremation because they wanted to stand in contrast to the pagans who cremated as a statement against the bodily resurrection. They also did not have an necropolis, the city of the dead. Rather, Christians had a cemetery which means a sleeping place. 

Christians reverently preparing body for deposit awaiting the resurrection

They did not bury the dead – they deposited them in the grave. Why deposit? Because just as you deposit money in the bank you intend to come back and withdraw the money. The body was deposited in the ground in preparation for Jesus coming back to withdraw the body at the end of time.

So cremation was a denial of the bodily resurrection and burial was an affirmation that the body was sleeping awaiting the day of, resurrection.

The Catholic Church has recently taught that cremation was OK as long as it was not a statement against the bodily resurrection. As long as one affirmed the resurrection of the body at the end of time, cremation was acceptable. However to preserve the integrity of the body the remains were to remain in one place and not scattered across an ocean or field, etc.

The Code of Canon Law says, “§3. The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.”

The Catechism states, “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.”

The scattering of the ashes could be seen as denying the bodily resurrection because scattering the ashes everywhere can imply the person is gone — reabsorbed into the physical creation as its final end. It ceases to exist. 

That is why the Catholic Church affirms the need to keep the ashes with integrity remembering that those ashes in the urn are the very matter that will be raised up at the end of time and reconstituted into the body of the person. The new heavenly body will be reunited with the soul to live forever — either in glory or in the torments of hell separated from God for eternity.

Mom with Dad before he died

When my father died my mother had no desire to visit the grave (though she has several times since) because she said, “That is not Dad”. I explained to her that this attitude denied the bodily resurrection because God loves stuff. He made stuff, matter, the body. On the day he created Man he said, “It is very good.” He liked what he had created.

That cold dead body was still Dad and when Jesus comes back he loves that body enough to raise it from the dust and re-fashion it into a new heavenly body. God keeps his eye on those dry bones and dust every day. My mom now understands. Her’s was an understandable reaction to the body with the life gone.

At the end of time my Dad will be raised from the dead and his body will be glorified. If God loves the bodily remains inside the coffin or urn then how much more should we respect the integrity of the remains as well.

For more info.

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Read his article here.

Jimmy Akin also weighs in with his “Nine Things you should Know and Share

 

 

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The article below is written by Jimmy Akin and available on his blog.

Pope Francis has just released a letter in which he made several announcements concerning the upcoming Year of Mercy.
This includes absolution for those who have procured abortion and the ability to go to priests of the Society of St. Pius X for confession.
These have raised a lot of questions, so here are 12 things to know and share . . .
 
1) What is the Year of Mercy?
Popes periodically dedicate a year to a particular theme. For example, Benedict XVI dedicated 2010 to priests and 2013 as a Year of Faith. Now, Pope Francis has devoted 2016 to the theme of mercy.
Designating such years are one of the ways that the popes call attention to particular themes and help people understand and live their faith more deeply.
The upcoming Year of Mercy runs from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016.

It doesn’t coincide with the calendar year because it’s based on the Church’s liturgical year (which begins with Advent rather than January 1) and because it’s adjusted to begin and end with certain special days on the Church’s calendar (December 8 is the Immaculate Conception and, in 2016, November 20 is Christ the King).
 
2) What has Pope Francis said about the year and what are we supposed to do during it?
Pope Francis discussed the year at length when he announced it. You can read what he had to say here.
Pope Francis also discusses the year in a new apostolic letter, released on September 1, which you can read here.

In the new letter, Pope Francis talks about several opportunities for celebrating the Year of Mercy, including doing a pilgrimage in your diocese to gain an indulgence, performing corporal and spiritual works of mercy, praying for the departed, etc.
He also talks about priests absolving those who have procured abortion and going to priests of the Society of St. Pius X for confession.
 
3) What does “procuring” an abortion mean?
In ordinary speech, procuring means obtaining, but here the term is used in a somewhat special way.
In canonical terms, it is generally taken to mean cooperating in an abortion in such a way that, if you hadn’t done your part, the abortion would not have taken place.

It is generally understood that only those immediately involved can be guilty of procuring an abortion in the canonical sense.
Those more remotely involved (e.g., workers at the electrical plant that supplies the abortion clinic with power, politicians and judges who make bad abortion laws) are not involved in this way.
 
4) Can’t priests just absolve people who have procured abortions?
Not without something else happening. Here’s why:

Step 1: The Code of Canon Law provides an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication for those who procure abortion.
Can. 1398 A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.
Step 2: Excommunication prevents a person from receiving the sacraments.
Can. 1331 §1. An excommunicated person is forbidden:
2/ to celebrate the sacraments or sacramentals and to receive the sacraments;
Step 3: The bishop (local ordinary) is the one empowered to remit the excommunication that procuring an abortion causes.
Can. 1355

§2. If the penalty has not been reserved to the Apostolic See, an ordinary can remit a latae sententiae penalty established by law but not yet declared for his subjects and those who are present in his territory or who committed the offense there; any bishop can also do this in the act of sacramental confession.
Therefore, a person who procures an abortion incurs an automatic excommunication which prevents them from receiving the sacraments. Confession is a sacrament, therefore, they cannot be absolved in confession until the excommunication is lifted. The bishop (or a bishop) is the one who needs to get involved in order to lift the excommunication and allow the person to be sacramentally absolved.
Except . . .
 
5) Except what?
Three things.
First, the Code of Canon Law provides a long list of things that can stop an automatic excommunication from taking effect. See here for more on that.
Of special note are these provisions:

Can. 1324
§1. The perpetrator of a violation is not exempt from a penalty, but the penalty established by law or precept must be tempered or a penance employed in its place if the delict was committed:
4/ by a minor who has completed the age of sixteen years;
5/ by a person who was coerced by grave fear, even if only relatively grave, or due to necessity or grave inconvenience if the delict is intrinsically evil or tends to the harm of souls;
8/ by a person who thought in culpable error that one of the circumstances mentioned in ? can. 1323, nn. 4 or 5 was present;
9/ by a person who without negligence did not know that a penalty was attached to a law or precept;
§3. In the circumstances mentioned in §1, the accused is not bound by a latae sententiae penalty.

Many who procure abortions are under sixteen, very fearful, and do not know that there is an automatic excommunication for procuring an abortion, this canon provides multiple grounds on which many who commit the act do not incur the penalty attached to it.
In such circumstances, they can be absolved in confession without the involvement of the bishop.
Second, I am informed that—due to how widespread abortion is in America—most American bishops have given their priests ability to remit the abortion excommunication in confession, without having to consult the bishop first.
Third, see comments by canonist Dr. Edward Peters here.
 
6) What should a person who thinks they may have incurred an excommunication by procuring an abortion do?
If they did incur the penalty (which includes knowing that the penalty existed and procuring the abortion anyway) then they should go to confession.
If the priest needs to consult with the bishop, he will let you know. Otherwise, he will be able to absolve you immediately upon determining that you have repented of procuring the abortion.
Or, because of what Pope Francis has done, go to any priest during the Year of Mercy.
 
7) What has Pope Francis done?
In his apostolic letter, Pope Francis states:
I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfill this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.

By his apostolic authority, Pope Francis has thus granted ordinary priests the ability to deal with this situation in confession, without having to involve the bishop, during the Year of Mercy—as a special sign of God’s mercy and as an encouragement of those who have procured an abortion to repent and return to the practice of their faith.
 
For the rest of the article addressing the SSPX group, click here.

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Okay, what about Catholics and the Death Penalty?

March 9, 2015

March 9, 2015 By Dr. Ed Peters, Canon Lawyer   (see also The Stream’s: “Should Catholics Oppose the Death Penalty?“) “Dr. Steven Long beat me to it. His rejoinder to the “Capital punishment must end” editorial of America, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, andOur Sunday Visitor is essential reading even if, in some places, Long’s essay, “Four Catholic [...]

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Heretic for Desiring Women’s Ordination?

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Since, you asked, Walter, no, you are not a heretic, but… by Dr. Edward Peters Walter Sandell. … “I wonder if I’m a heretic for believing in, and supporting, the ordination of women. I would be a hypocrite if I kept silent about this issue …” I don’t know (and it doesn’t matter) who “Walter [...]

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Cohabitation, Canonical Form and Marriage

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  When faced with practical problems, rely on principles not platitudes by Dr. Edward Peters The line between principles and platitudes is a narrow one. Both sorts of assertions are true and both can put into a few words concepts that otherwise require many paragraphs to explain. But principles and platitudes are not the same thing; [...]

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Canon Lawyer Ed Peters: “The Legion of Christ Disaster Drags Inexplicably On”

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New post on In the Light of the Law. Dr. Edward Peters, advisor to the Vatican. My comments are below. Dr. Peters writes, I have long held that nothing can rehabilitate the institution known as the Legion of Christ nor any of its affiliated works, and I’ve seen nothing in the last three years that [...]

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Before Mass: 1 or 3 Hour Fast?

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“Please Pray for Tom Peters” from his Dad, Canon Lawyer Ed Peters

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Please consider invoking Felix Cappello, SJ, for Thomas Peters by Dr. Edward Peters I tell my kids what my mom told me: to pray for the sick and the poor every day if only because any of us can find ourselves being either or both at any time.

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In Light of the Zimmerman Acquittal – Self-Defense?

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There will be many opinions and the discussion and wrangling will go on for quite a while, I suppose. Unhappily, this promises to further divide our country, especially along racial lines. However, I am not getting into that discussion here. Rather, it is important to understand the teaching of the Church on the matter of [...]

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Gays, Boy Scouts and Catholics

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Thoughts for Catholics impacted by the Boy Scouts of America membership policies, by Dr. Edward Peters Steve Ray’s Comments Below. Two groups of Catholics are directly impacted by the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to formally admit as scouts youth who profess a same-sex orientation, namely, Catholic sponsoring organizations and Catholic scouts and [...]

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Suicide in Notre Dame Cathedral; Violation of Sacred Space; Protest Against Gay Marriage?

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Gay Marriage and Communion

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Canon Lawyer Ed Peters Comments on Vatican Press Offices Unfortunate Comments about Disregard for Liturgical Law with Foot-washing

April 1, 2013

UPDATE 4/6/13 Ed Peters Responds to a critic Ed Peters Discusses Disregard for Liturgical Law in Washing Women’s Feet and Unhelpful Response from the Vatican Press Office. http://wp.me/p25nov-AP The background to this controversy is the antinomianism that prevails today. The Church is passing through a period in which the relationship between ecclesiastical law and the [...]

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