The Roman Catholic Church has issued new rules for Christians when it comes to burying the dead, saying that while it's not opposed to the practice of cremation, it doesn't support the scattering of ashes in nature or keeping them at home, as it fears it might be linked to pantheism.
The Vatican released an English-language translation of its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith instructions earlier this week, where it specifically prohibits the scattering of ashes on land or at sea, as well as keeping remains in private homes.
The document notes that while the Church recommends burying the bodies of the dead, it recognized that the practice of cremation has increased in many countries.
"In memory of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, the mystery that illumines the Christian meaning of death, burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body," it explains.
The rules specifically state: "In order that every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided, it is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects."
The Vatican adds that for Christians, death has a positive meaning because although the soul is separated from the body, "in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our soul."
It explains that burying the bodies of the faithful is a way to express faith in this resurrection, and also to show that the human body possesses great dignity and is an integral part of the person.
The Church therefore insists that it cannot condone "attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the 'prison' of the body."
The full rules and explanations by the Church can be read on the Vatican Radio website.
The Telegraph reports that cremation had been banned altogether by the Church for centuries, due to the belief that Christians will raise from the grave ahead of the Day of Judgment. Pressing social and sanitary needs forced the Vatican to officially lift the ban in 1963, however, but the Church has continued to urge believers to choose burial over cremation whenever possible.
Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, the author of the text, further defended the new rules that ban family members keeping remains of their loved ones at home.
"The dead body isn't the private property of relatives, but rather a son of God who is part of the people of God," Mueller said. "We have to get over this individualistic thinking."