The number of cremation cases in the country has significantly increased this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of the government’s measures to stop the spread of the disease, the remains of confirmed and suspected Covid-19 patients had to be buried or cremated within 12 hours of their death. And because it is a more efficient means of handling deaths caused by communicable diseases, such as Covid-19, and for economic reasons, cremation is preferred over traditional burial.
But long before the coronavirus pandemic hit the Philippines, cremation has already been gaining popularity among practical Filipinos. Since we are a predominantly Catholic country, it took some time before our countrymen welcomed the idea of cremation as an alternative means of laying our dearly departed to rest. This is because the Catholic Church used to oppose the practice of burning human remains, initially thinking that it is completely against Catholic beliefs. But after seeing the practical side of cremation, and realizing that it does not totally defy their teachings, the Catholic Church eventually gave its approval. However, to ensure that Catholics around the world practice cremation within the bounds of the faith, the Catholic Church has released a set of guidelines to follow in the proper handling and disposition of cremated remains.
The Vatican released an official document called Ad resurgendum cum Christo in October 2016. It contains instructions approved by Pope Francis “regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation.”
Ad resurgendum cum Christo literally meaning “to rise with Christ,” and it provides the prescribed rules and guidelines for preserving the cremated remains in accordance with the Christian faith.
Section 5 of the document says: “When, for legitimate motives, cremation of the body has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery or, in certain cases, in a church or an area which has been set aside for this purpose, and so dedicated by the competent ecclesial authority (Sec. 5, Ad resurgendum cum Christo).” The section further explains that “the preservation of the ashes of the departed in a sacred place ensures that they are not excluded from the prayers and remembrance of their family or the Christian community. It prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten, or their remains from being shown a lack of respect, which eventuality is possible, most especially once the immediately subsequent generation has too passed away. Also, it prevents any unfitting or superstitious practices.”
This section gives emphasis to the importance of having a columbarium, which is the proper place for keeping the urn that contains the cremated remains or cremains of the deceased. Cardinal Gerhard Muller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explains that placing the cremains in a public place like a columbarium, and marking it with the person’s name, the same name with which the person was baptized and by which the person is called by God, is “an expression of belief in the ‘communion of saints,’ the unending unity in Christ of all the baptized, living and dead.”
Section 6 of Ad resurgendum cum Christo prohibits the keeping of ash remains at home or dividing them among family members. It states that “the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted. Only in grave and exceptional cases dependent on cultural conditions of a localized nature, may the Ordinary, in agreement with the Episcopal Conference or the Synod of Bishops of the Oriental Churches, concede permission for the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence. Nonetheless, the ashes may not be divided among various family members and due respect must be maintained regarding the circumstances of such a conservation.”
Other practices related to cremation, such as the scattering of ashes at sea or elsewhere, and its preservation in the form of jewelry, are also deemed unacceptable, and are therefore prohibited in Ad resurgendum cum Christo. In Section 7 of the document, it is stated that “in order that every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided, it is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects.”
Eternal Crematory Corporation, which was founded in the 1990s, has been a proponent of the proper conservation of cremains even before the release of the Ad resurgendum cum Christo document. This is because the company has always believed that the ash remains of our dearly departed deserve to have a dignified repository, and a proper place where the living family members can honor them and celebrate their life.
Today, Eternal Crematory already has five branches, which are located inside the Eternal Gardens parks in Baesa, Caloocan City; Biñan City, Dagupan City, Balagtas, Batangas City; and Naga City. Along with its expansion thrust, the company will also continue to push for more awareness among Filipino Catholics of the guidelines set by the Vatican on the practice of cremation and the correct conservation of cremated remains. It reaffirms its commitment to help preserve our Catholic faith while providing top-quality cremation service to our countrymen.