Deceased Bishop To Be Cremated

Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia passed away on July 11 from cancer at only sixty. May he rest in peace.

It is now being reported that his body will be cremated instead of buried.
As more details concerning Bishop Michael Evans' funeral arrangements have come to light over the past week or so, it appears that his body, rather controversially, will be cremated not buried. It might be understandable, therefore, that details concerning the cremation are not widely available, and that none of the official announcements seem to mention it. However, the Catholic Grandparents Association, of which Bishop Evans was Patron until shortly before his death, did mention yesterday that his "committal, prior to cremation, will be at 16.30 [on Wednesday, 20 July] at the City Crematorium, Dereham Road [Norwich]*."
I know that the Church does not find anything wrong with the practice of cremation. I, however, have never been comfortable with the practice but for more practical than theological reasons. When it comes to my death and resting place, I don't want fire to have anything to do with it. I don't want to give God any ideas.

Beyond that, I have always felt that there is something in the practice that conveys a lack of hope. It may be silly, but I have never been able to get over this feeling.

While cremation is becoming more common, I do not think that it is very common among priests and Bishops. In fact, this may be the first time I have ever heard of a Bishop being cremated, although I do not keep track of such things.

Orthodox Christians continue to oppose the practice of cremation. In writing about this practice and why the Orthodox continue to oppose it, Father John Touloumes writes...
In God’s Image
The human person is created in the image and likeness of God. When we are baptized it is not only the soul which becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit, but also the Body. When we receive Holy Communion, we take the real Body and Blood of Christ into our bodies. In the mysteries of Chrismation and Holy Unction it is our bodies which are anointed with Holy Chrism. Particularly clear proof of the sanctity of the body is given by those saints such as Saints Spyridon, Paraskevi, Savas, Gerasimos and Dionysios, whose bodies remain incorrupt centuries after their physical deaths. The Church knows innumerable accounts of healing occurring upon being blessed with the relics of a saint. These men and women lived the life in Christ so fully that not only were their souls taken to heaven but their bodies retain the sanctity and healing power of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The Example of Holy Friday
The future resurrection of the believer’s soul and body, according to the truth which Christ revealed, dictates the nature of Orthodox traditions concerning the body at death. In an Orthodox funeral, "the mourners gather" as the "myrrhbearers to provide the last ministry to the Christian body in preparation for the Resurrection." Anyone who has attended the Orthodox Great Friday services knows the sequence following Christ’s death: Joseph of Arimethea goes at great personal risk to beg Pilate for the body of Jesus. As our icons show, the Theotokos, Nicodemos, John the Apostle and the Myrrhbearing Women helped Joseph, covering the Most Precious Body with tears.

How We Care for the Body
The Church has unequivocally taught since Christ’s Crucifixion that the proper way to treat the dead is a reverent burial of the body in the context of a proper Church funeral and prayers for those who have fallen asleep in the Lord. We sing hymns and psalms to escort the dead on their way and to express gratitude to God for their life and death. We wrap the body in a new shroud, symbolizing the new dress of incorruption the person is destined to receive. We pour myrrh and oil on the body as we do at baptism. We accompany this with incense and candles, showing our belief that the person has been liberated from darkness and is going to the true Light. We place the body in the grave towards the east, denoting the Resurrection to come. We weep in our grief, but not unrestrainedly, as we know what happiness is to come.
The Broad Picture
Acceptance of cremation, therefore, would represent a radical departure from an established practice for which there seems to be no adequate reason to institute a change. The argument that cemeteries waste space does not stand in a nation as immense as our own, especially when the universality of modern transportation makes burial sites away from urban centers easily accessible. The sky-rocketing cost of burial is not seen at this time as a compelling reason to sanction cremation, for the Church does not ask that funerals be extravagant and costly, but that a certain amount of respect be maintained for the human body that was once the temple of a human soul. Thus the Church, due to a pastoral concern for the preservation of right beliefs and right practice within the Tradition of the Fathers, and out of a sense of reverence for its departed, must continue its opposition to this practice. Each Orthodox Christian should know that since cremation is prohibited by the canons [rules of the Church], those who insist on their own cremation will not be permitted a funeral in the Church. Naturally, an exception occurs when the Church is confronted with the case of some accident or natural disaster where cremation is necessary to guard the health of the living. In these special situations, the Church allows cremation of Orthodox people with prior episcopal permission and only by "economia."
While I do not suggest that cremation is a moral evil, I think that it is not the ideal. I think the Orthodox reasoning makes sense to me. You?

ht Rorate Caeli


  1. I dunno...seems to me that many of the saints' bodies were virtually hacked apart in order to get those relics we venerate. St. T. of Avila even had her hand cut off after death - by her confessor! The hand traveled around Spain for a while (not sure where it finally ended up, but there were "custody" disputes over it). At least in the Medieval period, it was common enough for (Christian)royalty to have parts of their bodies buried in different churches, and the Church didn't seem to have a problem with that. If the body is supposed to be kept inviolate after death, what does that mean for the traffic in relics that we seem to have? Personally, the cremation thing wouldn't bother me but for the business about the heat/fire. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, after all. If God can reassemble a worm-devoured corpse, I'm sure he can reassemble a pile of ashes. And, since he made us from nothing, I don't suppose he has to have some certain type of material to work with in assembling our resurrected bodies. As long as respect is shown the body that used to house the soul, I don't think burial over cremation much matters.


  2. Burying can lead some minds into thinking they'll be near other family members buried in that spot of that cemetery as though they're all laying down talking. I think it is just as susceptible to carnal distortion as cremation. And the Church and saints of the day for 3 centuries didn't object to burning Protestants etc....out of love...from mid 15th century to mid 18th ( Will Durant's low figure of 6000 or Llorente's 31,000...there are higher figures too). Since the Church must not do unto others what it would not do unto itself, we can assume the Inquisition was the living Church implying the general good of cremation....albeit in a way (torture....since they were alive) that is now considered an intrinsic evil in "Splendor of the Truth" section 80/1993AD.

  3. My mother and step-father were cremated for very practical purposes. They died in Canada in a very destructive car accident. Since there was not going to be an open casket, and since it costs more to bring a body versus cremains into the US, it was decided to have them cremated in Canada. We still had a beautiful Catholic funeral Mass and their cremains (in two beautiful urns) were buried in a cemetery.

  4. Oh, for crud's sake, read a little history, bill. The civil authorities burnt and hacked apart and drew and quartered people way before, during and after the church did. In some cases, it was the civil authorities who saw heretics as traitors and gave them the same punishment as any traitor. People got their hands chopped off for theft. Those were rough days and rough punishments, and we should be grateful they're over, in our society (the Muslims still unfortunately practice some of them).

    Let's not cloud the issue of the post, cremation. Personally, I have no problem with cremation with burial. I object to the splitting up and passing around and sprinkling ashes over the backyard and nearest lake. It's a little relic-ky, like Ann reminds us.

    We're formed from the mud of the earth (carbon-based life forms, anyone?) Returning as ashes to the mud of the earth, to be resurrected in a glorified body, makes sense to me.

  5. "When it comes to my death and resting place, I don't want fire to have anything to do with it. I don't want to give God any ideas."

    Awesome... I'm totally going to use this saying now! :-)

  6. My mother passed away in February. I was surprised to find out that she and my father wanted to be cremated. The way we handled it worked very well. There was an open-casket viewing and Rosary the night before her funeral. Her body inside a casket was at the funeral Mass as usual. After the Mass, her body was transported to the crematorium. Her cremains were given to my father a few days later and a simple burial ceremony at the grave site occurred.From a Catholic point of view, the main thing is that the ashes should not be divided or scattered. They must be interred.

  7. I've always felt much the same way, Pat. I'm so adamant about being buried that my wife likes to (kiddingly) threaten me with cremation when I die.

    One of the arguments for cremation has always been the fear of cemetery overcrowding. If this is really a problem, I wish they'd bring back good old fashioned charnel houses. Dig me up after twenty-five years and stack up my bones. Of course, the mandatory practice of embalming in some states makes this all but impossible.

  8. Anonymous, seculars after 1253 AD were bound by the papal decretals to burn heretics or face "Inquisition" at New Advent by Joseph Blotzer who lived at a time when the pre 1917 decretals were in use. But your "stay focused" point had merit even if your history was flippant.

  9. I agree with Pat. I don't want God to think I'm making a suggestion. That, and I don't want the last thing I do to be making an ash out of myself.

  10. I was all for cremation before I got married and became Catholic. My husband wants a proper funeral (himself; and me, if I go before him). The only thing I don't want is an open casket - at any time. Keep the lid shut and bury me in a Catholic cemetery. At the end of the day, I really don't care as long as it's respectful - I'll be somewhere else (Purgatory/Heaven) anyway.

  11. I agree with my priest. Who cares? When you're gone, you're gone.

  12. I have never understood why cremation is a problem. I'm uncomfortable with the idea of scattering the ashes, however.

    Let's face it, the people who died hundreds, thousands of years ago eventually crumbled into dust. I saw St. Peter's bones under the Vatican...believe me you had to squint to see them. The rest of St. Pete is gone, but we can be downright certain that he's in a better place now.

    "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust you shall return." Seems to me that cremation offers a much "neater" way to get to that point. If God has the power to resurrect people who turned to dust ages ago, why wouldn't he do that for those who vaporized in a plane crash, or chose cremation, etc.?

    That said, it's more comforting on a human level to think about lying next to a spouse or other family once you don't need your body anymore.

  13. Regarding your headline, at least it isn't a live bishop who will be cremated.

  14. My husband, a non-practicing Catholic, says he wants to be cremated when he dies because he does not like the thought of being buried in a cemetery that could fall into ruin or vandalism -- he's seen several of those in his lifetime. He insists that cremation is "more respectful" of the body that letting it lie in a cemetery that's going to seed due to lack of funds to keep it up. I can't seem to convince him otherwise.

    Personally, I'd prefer a "green" burial in a simple, unfinished wooden casket and without embalming. That, I think, is the way we were really meant to return to the earth from which we were made.

    A lot of what we THINK of as "Christian burial" really isn't -- i.e. embalming, open casket wakes, elaborate caskets, tons of flowers. These are practices foisted on us by the funeral industry and are NOT an integral part of Christian burial, nor are they necessarily "more respectful" of the body. However, if people think the only way to avoid these superfluous and expensive practices is cremation, they will choose cremation.

    Finally, one really good source of simple and beautiful caskets are the Trappist monks of New Melleray Abbey in Iowa, who construct by hand caskets and cremation urns from wood cut from their own forest. They do take orders in advance, and sometimes they donate caskets in cases of special need. (For example, they donated a casket for Christina Green, the little girl killed in the Tucson shooting.)


  15. I like the idea of burial after death. All the chat about Saint's parts being separated from them (relics, folks. . . relics), or the burning of heretics misses the point. In the West and Near East, bodies got buried. We are going to rise again. We will have glorified bodies in heaven (God willing I remain faithful and get there!). Cremation is a thing of the Far East where the body is considered nothing, as the Buddhists hold. But CHRIST BECAME FLESH, and ROSE FROM THE DEAD BODILY. Therefore, to honor Christ Who Saves us, perhaps we should stick to the tradition and go for burial, not cremation.

  16. The simple wooden burial box is very dignified. However, short of finding a funeral parlor that would offer it, cremation would seem more practical.

    Depending on the state where the deceased resided, funeral and burial plot could cost thou$and$ of dollars after all is said and done.

    It's nice to say what you want done when you die. It's an act of charity to those left behind if final plans are taken care of while one is alive.

    May G-d rest Bishop Evans soul. Amen.

  17. I modestly propose we just go ahead and shove people who gigglingly say "Don't go there" (in a way that suggests they just coined the phrase) into the crematorium chamber now. Then again, my name is Coffin so I may have a conflict of interest.

    What was the question again?

  18. I converted to the Catholic faith a few years ago and the only things I still have a problems with are the view on cremation and scattering and the use of relics.

    I thought the digging up of JPII, snipping off a piece or two and reburying him was revolting and disrespectful.


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