Respect for the Dead

Posted: October 8, 2010 by joelmartin in Christ & Culture, Ethics, Family

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a masterful document – I wish we Anglicans had something like it. Due to my Mom’s death, I read what it says about the treatment of the dead:

The dying should be given attention and care to help them live their last moments in dignity and peace. They will be helped by the prayer of their relatives, who must see to it that the sick receive at the proper time the sacraments that prepare them to meet the living God.
The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.
Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious.
The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.

I love how the Catechism deals with just about everything you can think of in life. I don’t like autopsies, giving organs or cremation, but the Catholic approach does seem sensible to me. And it must be comforting to know that there are answers to these things rather than simply making up an answer.

Outside the Catechism, canon law states:

§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.

  1. Joel, you are dead on. I attended a recent funeral where it was overemphasized how the body is no longer the person and that it only served as a vessel for their redemption, which was preached as their Spirit being liberated to be with Christ.

    This is all dangerous gnosticism, I thought. There wasn’t even any mention of the future resurrection, which is our eschatological hope. There still seems to be this gnostic thinking that salvation is liberation from the fleshly body and that the eternal state is to be dwelling with Christ in some other realm as a disembodied soul.

    Granted we put off this (old) body, and will be resurrected with a glorified body, but it will be the raising up of that same body that is placed in the ground. God is not speaking into existence a person. We will be “transformed”.

  2. joelmartin says:

    I couldn’t agree more Rick. It’s a doctrine that I think is largely lost on the modern church.

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