The Catholic Church and Cremation

For most of its 2,000-year history, cremation was forbidden by the Catholic Church. This teaching was born of historical context as well as biblical interpretation.

In early times, Romans cremated their dead as a rejection of an afterlife, a direct contradiction to the Christian hope of resurrection. Therefore, cremation was associated with pagans and Christians forbade it in favor of traditional burial.

Drawing on scripture, early Catholics believed what we profess today: We are an incarnational people who believe creation is holy because, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14). God is not somewhere “up there” but within. As God is in us, we are “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6: 19) and the body is to be treated with respect both in life and after death. Because cremation is a destruction of the body, the Catholic Church prohibited it. Only in emergency situations when the quick disposal of bodies was a civil necessity was cremation permissible.

This is no longer the case. Why? The intention of cremation has changed over the years. Though this requires some assumptions and generalizations, many people seem to opt for cremation not because they reject resurrection, but for economic reasons, environmental concerns, sanitation preference, and the like. The leaders of the Catholic Church called The Second Vatican Council in 1963 for spiritual renewal and discussion. Cremation was on the list.

After the reforms of the funeral and burial rites named by Vatican II, the Church took a more relaxed approach, allowing cremation. However, due to confusion in the years that followed, the Church needed to set some guidelines. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement of clarity and directive. ‘Cremation does not affect [the] soul, nor does it prevent God from raising up the deceased body to new life.’ If a Catholic chooses cremation, it is required that:

  • Cremated remains should still be treated with the same respect as corporal remains
  • When a loved one has been cremated, their ashes must be kept intact, the same as one would treat a body
  • The ashes may not be scattered, separated, or reserved
  • Ashes should be placed in a proper vessel (such as one of our urns)
  • Ashes, within a proper vessel, should be interred in a burial plot, columbarium or mausoleum
  • It is the preference of the Catholic Church to have the body present for the funeral rites and cremated afterwards.

Traditional burial or cremation followed by burial are, according to the Church, the best ways to comply with the dignity we owe the human body. How does this compare to other faiths?

Christians: Most Christian denominations except for Greek Orthodox, allow cremation.

Anglicans/Episcopalians, Baptists, Lutherans, and Methodists: Cremation is allowed before or after the funeral rite.

Presbyterians: Cremation is allowed, but burial is preferred

Jews: Cremation is allowed among Reform Jews but is not allowed for Orthodox Jews who only permit traditional burial

Muslims: Cremation is forbidden to the point of excluding someone form a Muslim burial

Buddhists: Allow cremation; ashes may be kept by the family, enshrined, or scattered at sea

Hindus: Require cremation for all except babies, children and saints

Mormons: Encourage burial, but allow cremation

 

We understand that this is a very personal decision for you or your loved one. Regardless of faith background, all are welcome to purchase our handcrafted wooden urns or caskets as preference or belief permits. Advanced planning helps you to make decisions about your final wishes ahead of time, providing comfort to your family and ensuring your requests are met.

 

Sources:

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Connolly, Marshall (2016, October 25) “Catholic Church Issues New Guidelines for Cremation.”

Miller, Don Fr. (2017, October 25) “Catholics and Cremation.”

A Work of Human Hands – Trappist Caskets and Urns

For Trappists, death is understood as a natural part of life. The beauty with which God bestows upon the earth is subject to the burden of time. Seasons change, tides rise and fall, morning light dims with night. Such occurrences remind the monks to reverently regard human life in its own cyclical reality, both as treasured and impermanent. In line with teachings of the Catholic Church, monks believe death is not the end of a life, but a step on the path to a new beginning in eternity.

With a connection to and understanding of this balanced order, Trappists embrace a work of craftmanship working with natural resources. They use the bountiful gifts of the earth, such as wood from trees, to create products for the benefit of others. Self-sufficiency in their work allows the monks to continue their hidden life of prayer.

To maintain sustainability, in 1999 New Melleray Abbey launched Trappist Caskets. Together with lay men and women, the monks help handcraft wooden caskets and urns for families across the county. As stewards and caretakes of the grounds, each wooden casket and urn is made from premium, native wood from the monastery’s own forest, and forests within the region.

One does not have to share the Catholic faith in order to purchase a Trappist casket or urn, but the monks will offer their prayers, as each casket and urn is blessed by a monk. The name of the deceased is inscribed in their Memorial book that resides in the Abbey and a Mass of Remembrance is offered. A memorial tree is also planted to commemorate each life that finds rest in a Trappist casket or urn, a hopeful reminder that with death comes new life.

Prayerful simplicity, quiet fellowship, and the work of human hands are cornerstones for the Trappist monks of New Melleray Abbey. They do not require much of the world outside their walls, but they are humbled to give back during a time of mourning and loss. It is an honor to celebrate the circle of life, whether at its precious infancy, earthly conclusion, or heavenly beginning.

Source: “The Trappist Life” (n.d.) retrieved from http://www.trappists.org/

From Ireland to Iowa: The Trappist Monks of New Melleray Abbey

The Trappist monks, belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, share a rich history that spans sixteen hundred years. From arid Egyptian deserts to green pastures of Ireland, monks have prayed, studied, and worked together for centuries.

After the fall of the Roman Empire and the ensuing period of unrest in the early Catholic Church, monasticism, became increasingly popular. By the sixth century, St. Benedict emerged as a prominent figure for early monks when he compiled a set of rules for how the holy men should live. Gradually, the Rule of St. Benedict became widely accepted, spreading throughout Europe as a standard of monastic way of life.

After centuries of growth and interpretation, some monks grew lax, indulging too often in corporeal comforts and the pursuit of power. In 1098 a group of monks founded the Abbey of Citeaux in southern France where they sought a return the austere simplicity of Benedict’s Rule. These monks were known as Cistercians, the ancestors of today’s Trappists.

Cistercian founders St. Robert, St. Alberic and St. Stephen believed in a modest lifestyle silenced from distractions of the busy world around them. Continuously growing and seeking devout simplicity, the order experienced renewal over the years. The name “Trappist” comes from La Grande Trappe, a Cistercian monastery in Normandy where a reformation movement took place in the mid-17th century. Reformers were nicknamed Trappists and the name stuck.

In the late 1840’s, Trappist monks from Mount Melleray Abbey in Ireland were plagued by extreme famine. The dire conditions led explorer monks to North America in search of a new monastic site. In 1849 the Irish monks settled on the rolling farm- and timberland of Iowa’s frontier. On this site, near Dubuque, New Melleray Abbey was founded. Despite harsh winters and difficult situations, miraculously the monks persevered to farm the land and build their monastery with limestone they quarried themselves.

One hundred seventy years later, the Trappist monks of New Melleray Abbey continue to live out their humble vocation. Vows of obedience, stability, conversion of life, poverty and chastity are expressed by their daily rhythms of contemplative prayer, community liturgy and manual labor. These are the cornerstones of their calling – from St. Benedict to today.

Sources: “Our History & Wisdom” (n.d.) retrieved from http://www.trappists.org/ and “A History of New Melleray – A Miracle of God” (n.d.) retrieved from https://newmelleray.org/History

Pictures from the Abbey – September

Photographs by Brother Paul

 

 

 

What is Monasticism?

The concept of monasticism is ancient and is found in many religions and philosophies. In the centuries immediately before Christ, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism all developed alternative styles of life which involved renouncing the world in some ways, in order to seek liberation or purification or union with God, sometimes as a solitary ascetic, sometimes in community.

Early Christian monasticism drew its inspiration from the examples of the Prophet Elijah and John the Baptist, who both lived alone in the desert, and above all from the story of Jesus’ time in solitary struggle with Satan in the desert, before his public ministry.

St. Anthony the Great (ca. 251-356) was the first well-known Christian to withdraw to the desert.  While the earliest Desert Fathers lived as hermits, they were rarely completely isolated, but often lived in proximity to one another, and soon loose-knit communities began to form in such places as the Desert of Nitria and the Desert of Skete. The progression from hermit (“anchorite”) to monk (“cenobite”) living in community under one abbot, came quickly, when in 346 St Pachomius established in Egypt the first cenobitic Christian monastery.

The Eastern monastic teachings were brought to the western church by Saint John Cassian (ca. 360 – ca. 435). Cassian founded a monastery of monks and probably also one of nuns near Marseilles, and partly to counter what he felt were the abuses he found in Western monasticism, he wrote two long works, the Institutes and Conferences. In these books he not only transmitted his Egyptian experience (they are perhaps the oldest written record of the thought of the Desert Fathers), but he also gave Christian monasticism a profound evangelical and theological basis.

Cassian’s influence was enormous and lasted for centuries – even the smallest monastic library in Europe’s Dark Ages would have its copy of Cassian. Furthermore, St. Benedict incorporated Cassian’s thought into his monastic Rule, and recommended that his monks read Cassian’s works. Since the Rule of St Benedict is still used by Benedictine, Cistercian, and Trappist monastics, the thought of John Cassian, and the desert tradition behind him, still guides the spiritual lives of thousands of men and women in the Catholic Church.

 

 


Source: O.C.S.O. Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance – http://www.ocso.org/

Organic Garden at New Melleray Abbey

From the very beginning agriculture has been an integral part of our Cistercian monasteries. The monks of New Melleray have always lived close to the land. While today we lease our crop land to local farmers, we still can enjoy the rich experience of growing food for our own table and for the guesthouse dining room. In recent years work in our expansive organic vegetable garden has been an especially rich experience for the contemplative mind.

Immersing your hands in the soil, you are immersed in the beauty of God’s creation. Garden work strengthens your solidarity with the earth and with all earth’s peoples. You are in solidarity with all of Adam’s race as you battle thorns and thistles and raise your food by the sweat of your brow, yet you need only to look up to experience the divine in eastern Iowa’s awesome blue sky, listen to the beauty of a bird’s song, or perhaps see an eagle soaring overhead. The work of your hands combined with God’s gift of our rich Iowa soil produce the simple pleasures of summer sweet corn, sweet home grown tomatoes, and fresh green lettuce. Knowing who grew the food and where it came from makes the prayer of thanksgiving before the meal all the more meaningful.


Source – New Melleray Abbey – https://newmelleray.org/

Famous Monks – St. Benedict

St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries (RB) was not the only monastic Rule available in the sixth century, but it was the most livable for people of ordinary strength. From his own experience and from the tradition of Egyptian monasticism, Benedict absorbed the authentic monastic spirit of seeking God in community. He was able to articulate his vision in a Rule that is notable both for its Christo-centric spirituality and its practical organization.

None of this would have made St Benedict the Father of Western Monasticism if it had not been for Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor, and his son Louis the Pious in the ninth century.  They established Benedictine monasteries throughout their empire so as to benefit from the civilizing and unifying energy generated by these monasteries.
The RB provides a satisfying balance of prayer and work (ora et labora) that is amazingly productive.  Benedictines cleared and farmed the land.  In their libraries they copied and preserved manuscripts.  By their prayers they helped convert and pacify the barbarians.   As a result of his influence, St. Benedict is honored as the co-patron of Europe.

In our time, not only monks and nuns but also lay people have discovered the wisdom contained in the RB and are trying to live accordingly.  They adapt to their own situation what the RB says about serving others, especially the infirm, about showing hospitality even to strangers, about maintaining a balance in one’s daily schedule, about reverencing Christ and his word.  They are improving the quality of their life and becoming more fully and perfectly human.


Source – Trappists.org