An urn prepared for burial © Nicolas Armer
Austria's Catholic bishops have published new guidelines on cremation and natural burials. They concede the right of believers to "decide for themselves whether to have a cremation".
However, they or their survivors should not suffer any disadvantage as a result. The prerequisite is that the reasons for their decision "do not contradict the Christian faith".
On the other hand, anonymous scattering of ashes in nature, in the air or on the water is not a Christian option, nor is placing the urn in a private house or apartment, burial in a private garden or dividing the ashes into several memorial objects.
Burial sites are permanent
The ordinance basically says: "Burial sites are permanent – that is, retrievable, generally accessible, allow an opportunity for remembrance and prayer, the names of the dead can be left or recorded, the erection of a Christian sign on the site is possible. Blessing of individual gravesites is recommended."
The bishops further hold that a Catholic's right to celebrate the liturgy for the dead is not extinguished "even if his or her survivors show no regard for Church norms in choosing the form or place of burial".
Celebrating funeral rites in the presence of the coffin with the body, he said, is strongly and generally recommended, regardless of the form of burial.
If no service has taken place before the cremation, according to the new guidelines it should be celebrated in the presence of the urn.
Burial place for urns preferably the earth
The claim of church action in dealing with an ash urn is the same as in dealing with a corpse. In addition, the bishops said, it is a matter of piety, that is, the protection of the honor of the deceased and the preservation of the peace of the dead, which also applies to the ashes.
In church cemeteries, the burial place for urns is preferably in the ground, they said. In urban areas, he said, consideration could be given to establishing repositories in churches instead. The bishops' guidelines also respond to the trend of burying urns in meadow and forest areas or in park-like settings. Such a form of burial does not immediately exclude a church presence; rather, the individual case must be examined.
The catholic bishops of Germany had published a brochure on funeral culture in 2005. In this they argue in favor of keeping the cemetery in principle as a "place of remembrance and mourning culture". Christians should find forms of grave design that show that death does not have the last word on life. Mourning and remembrance would need rituals and concrete places.