An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


The reducing by fire of a dead body to ashes. The ashes may be placed in an urn or other container and interred in a niche of a columbarium. The ashes may also be buried or scattered in a memorial garden on church grounds or in a cemetery. The ashes may be referred to as “cremains.” The early Christians considered cremation inappropriate because the body was to be resurrected. Early Christians followed the Jewish practice of burial. Cremation largely ceased in the Roman empire by the fifth century. However, several cremation societies were organized in Europe during the nineteenth century. Cremation was urged by some because of concern for public hygiene and conservation of land. The practice became more widespread, and was no longer understood to deny the resurrection of the body. The 1979 BCP is the first American Prayer Book to recognize cremation. The BCP states (p. 490) that the committal service may precede cremation. The legitimacy of cremation in the Church of England is recognized by the 1969 Canons which state that the ashes of a cremated person should be interred or deposited in consecrated ground. The Roman Catholic Church resisted the practice of cremation in the nineteenth century because it was associated with anti-Catholic sentiments and materialism. The Roman Catholic penalties for cremation were withdrawn by a decree of the Holy Office (July 5, 1963), unless there is evidence of bad faith. See Columbarium.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.