A Burning Question
Recently Ms Christina Odone, former editress of the Catholic Herald , got in quite a tizzy over Rome’s insistence that in the case of cremation, the ashes of the dead must not be kept by relatives at home, or scattered at sea or over the countryside. The decree came not from the Holy Father but from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but Ms Odone blames Pope Francis for allowing it to be promulgated.
Personally, I wish that cremation itself was still forbidden. As a soldier in Brunswick I can remember seeing dark grey smoke pouring from the chimney of the Krematorium just across the road from our Kaserne (barracks), and being reminded unavoidably of Auschwitz. A couple of years earlier my school headmaster Dom Wilfrid Passmore OSB, defending the Church’s ban on cremation told us that—at least in the 1950s—the bones of the deceased were crushed between rollers, and that was no way to treat the temple of the Holy Ghost.
Today it’s possible to view the process on line. As I needed to get my facts right before writing this blogpost, I thought I had better do so. So I googled the word “cremation” and after some initial hesitation I opened the site. It’s certainly not pleasant, although there’s no sign of any rollers. But the reality is almost worse. After cremation the bones are still very much there, so two fellows with what look like garden hoes smash the skull and the other fragments into small pieces.
No, the immemorial Catholic instinct in favour of burial rather than burning is a sound one. It wouldn’t be so bad if the body were put on a great funeral pyre. As Chesterton once put it:
If I had been a heathen, I’d have piled my pyre on high
And in a great red whirlwind gone roaring to the sky.
But Higgins is a heathen, and a richer man than I;
And they put him in an oven, just as if he were a pie.
During the Spanish civil war, when the Alcázar of Toledo was relieved by Nationalist forces after a long siege, it was noticed that much of the available empty ground had been used as a cemetery for the fallen. When a journalist asked Colonel José Moscardó, commander of the garrison, why they hadn’t burned the bodies instead of burying them, his reply was: “Sir, we are Catholics.”