Ask a Franciscan

Can People Who Choose Cremation Go to Heaven?

Q: My aunt says that her parish priest told her that God will not raise at the Last Judgment anyone who has chosen to be cremated. Is that true? If so, why?

A: If her parish priest said that, he is simply wrong. At the Last Judgment, everyone will go to eternal glory or to eternal punishment. Going to heaven does not depend on how a person is buried — or indeed even if that person’s grave can be located.

It is true that the Catholic Church once opposed cremation because the practice’s strongest advocates also denied any life beyond this one. The universal ban on cremation for Catholics was lifted by the Holy Office in 1963. The revised funeral rites in 1969 permitted prayers at the graveside for someone who had been cremated. The 1983 Code of Canon Law allows cremation “unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (Canon 1176:3).

In 1997, the Holy See allowed the U.S. bishops to give permission for funeral Masses in the presence of cremains (ashes of the deceased). Sometimes the Mass precedes the cremation, as often happens when someone donates his or her body to science. I have known very good people who have done that.

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