Catholic Church’s shifting view on cremation seen in new site for urns

Columbarium at Ennis Cathedral is consecrated in a first for Irish church

Bishop of Killaloe Fintan Monahan consecrated the columbarium in Ennis’s cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. Photograph: Killaloe Diocese/Catholic Communications Office

Bishop of Killaloe Fintan Monahan consecrated the columbarium in Ennis’s cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. Photograph: Killaloe Diocese/Catholic Communications Office

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In what is believed to be a first in Ireland, a Catholic bishop has consecrated a columbarium in his cathedral wherein the cremated remains of parishioners will be interred.

Last Thursday, Bishop Fintan Monahan of Killaloe consecrated the columbarium in Ennis’s cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.

Installed by local builders Michael Clancy and Michael McInerney, the columbarium has capacity for 240 urns, with 104 niches already reserved. The first interment of ashes will take place at the new columbarium on November 6th next.

The Catholic Church, in Ireland as elsewhere, has had considerable difficulty with cremation down the years, mainly because of its belief in the resurrection of the body after death. In 1963, it changed the teaching that banned crematiion, while strongly expressing a preference for burying the dead.

Twenty years later, in 1983, its Code of Canon Law stated: “The church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.”

In a further development, a Vatican instruction in 2016 directed Catholics to ensure that the cremated remains of loved ones should be spread only in consecrated graveyards or stored in churches.

Preference

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, accepted cremations were increasingly popular but insisted the ashes of loved ones must be kept “in a holy place, that is a cemetery or a church or in a place that has been specifically dedicated to this purpose”.

“The conservation of ashes in the home is not allowed. Furthermore, in order to avoid any form of pantheistic or naturalistic or nihilistic misunderstanding, the dispersion of ashes in the air, on the ground, on water or in some other way as well as the conversion of cremated ashes into commemorative objects is not allowed,” he said.

Voicing the church’s preference for burials, he said: “We come from the earth and we shall return to the earth. In memory of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, burial is the most appropriate way to express our faith and hope in bodily resurrection.”

He also advised that the division of ashes among family members or their preservation in pieces of jewellery, was prohibited.

These were “not a set of discretionary guidelines”, a spokesman for Ireland’s Catholic bishops said at the time, and could require the establishment of a columbarium in Catholic parishes.