ASK FATHER: Cremains in funeral Mass, Traditional Requiem

From a reader…


Thank you for all that you do and say, on this blog and beyond. Here is my question:

Since cremation is permitted, what would be the ritual for cremains if the funeral mass were an EF Requiem?

To my mind, there is something strange about one of those jars or boxes on a little table.  It doesn’t feel … right.  Granted there are special circumstances.

Years ago I met a clever priest who purchased a coffin for the parish precisely so that the “cremains” could be placed inside, covered properly with the pall, etc.   The rite goes on as normal.

I suppose the rite would just go as normal for a box on a table, too.

Perhaps a coffin, or a temporary catafalque, will serve?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. JARay says:

    Long ago it was the custom to bury the dead in the Churchyard around the Parish Church. Demands of space, car parks etc. have overridden the space around a Church in today’s world. My own parish has built a “Columbarium” quite close outside the front door into my parish church. If anyone does not know what a columbarium is, it is a series of walls with letterbox -like gaps in it so that the ashes of the deceased in their small wooden boxes can be placed in these letter-box like holes and then a metal plate is screwed over the now occupied hole with the details of the deceased engraved on them. Thus there is this practice of being buried around one’s own church without actually digging holes in the ground. This, it seems to me, is a way of returning to the customs of the past and when the Feast of All Souls comes round in November then the Parishoners can gather round the Columbarium and have prayers for the Souls in Purgatory. I think that there is much to recommend this new practice.

  2. FrankWalshingham says:

    That is what exactly they do for military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. The urn with the cremains gets put in a dummy flag draped coffin on the horse drawn caisson.

  3. Joy65 says:

    Very nice gesture of that Priest to buy that coffin for the Parish!

  4. JesusFreak84 says:

    The funeral home we used for my recently-deceased grandmother actually rents caskets in this case, and I guess the rubrics would treat the casket normally? (Though I’m not sure how the rules about which way the feet face would be applied…)

    As far as WHY people cremate…look at the cost of cremation vs. anything else =-\ I had a coworker at my last job who literally could not afford to bury his mother any other way.

  5. abasham says:

    My grandmother recently passed away in Arizona, and it seems that the cemetary where she was buried only has cremated remains. I’m generally opposed to cremation, but she lived in a desert climate and my understanding is a normal burial doesn’t quite work out there. So I guess the choice was either cremation or mummification, basically. I think cremation was probably the right choice in that case.

  6. majuscule says:

    We had a Requiem Mass for my mother’s cremated remains. She had requested it and I was so happy we could do it for her.

    We put three real beeswax candles on each of two small black-draped rectangular tables. Between them was a small round table with the cremains on it. I draped the cremains with a small black pall I’d made on which I appliquéd a gold cross I had crocheted.

    Since then I have been asked to lend the pall for use at an Ordinary Form Funeral Mass, too.

  7. APX says:

    The other option would be to hold off on cremation until after the Requiem Mass and rent a casket. Embalming isn’t usually required.

    Traditional diner are really expensive. One way to keep down the costs is to try to coordinate as much as you can through the church rather than let the funeral director do the coordinating with the church. I know of one funeral home here who charges flat rate fees for the services the church provides (church use fees, fees for the priest, fee for the choir, fee for the organist, catering fees, etc) regardless of what the church actually charges (or doesn’t charge for), and for parishioners for whom financial difficulties arise, the parish will often waive the fees or reduce them. You can also shop for a grave plot on Kijiji and Craigslist. You can also DIY your own casket or just go for something simple like a pine box with a lid.

  8. TonyO says:

    I understand the practicalities of cremation vs. burial, and now that there is little cultural worry of people thinking cremation reflects a rejection of the afterlife, there is good reason in some situations to do cremation.

    Can I ask, please, whether “cremains” is a good term, though? I know language changes naturally and organically, but every time I hear the word (or read it) I get the sense of a poorly thought out neologism that is more at home in the comics page than in the obituary page of the paper. It smacks of disrespect, making light of the matter, it sounds like a sophomoric attempt to “solve” a problem that doesn’t really exist. Is “remains” no longer satisfactory? Can you not be bothered to say “cremated remains” if you have to be more specific? Are you charged extra for using up 3 more syllables? Say, what about making explicit reference to the teaching of Ash Wednesday, and use “ash remains”, or just plain “ashes” which is even shorter and simpler than “cremains”. “Ashes” is perfectly fine, respectful, and clear, and is an already existing word; “cremains” grates on the ear.

    That’s my 2 cents, anyway.

  9. APX says:


    Cremains can’t really be called ashes since they’re not really ashes. They’re finely ground up bone that’s been under extreme heat. When I shake the urn containing the remains of my dog, I can hear that it’s not ash because it makes a noise. It sounds more like sand and it’s heavier than ash.

  10. JARay says:

    I have never ever heard the word “cremains” here in Western Australia. After a cremation it is the “ashes” which are returned to the relatives and the practice of building Columbariums is growing around the churches here. There are some people who scatter the ashes around favourite spots or tipping the ashes into the sea is also common. But, as I understand it, the Church is quite against any such disposal of ashes since it simply treats these remains of human beings as being nothing other than waste products to be disposed of. The idea of there being a time in the future when all will be raised from the dead, simply is never thought about.

  11. Markus says:

    Ossuary with Pall?

  12. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    To those who say cremation (technically allowed today by the Church if the ashes are buried, but explicitly not preferred) is much cheaper than a traditional burial (clearly preferred by the Church, even today), it depends what you are pricing.

    If you are looking at a fancy coffin, then, yes, it’s cheaper to burn the body.

    But if you are comparing burning the body (average cremation cost in the U.S. is $1,100) to a coffin, it is important to consider simpler options. The Trappists in Iowa, for instance, have simple pine coffins starting at $1,200:

  13. APX says:

    When you have a Traditional funeral with the body present, there are extra fees you have to pay for:
    -grave liner
    -burial plot (a full size plot is more than that for an urn)
    -opening and closing the burial plot
    -hearse and vehicles for transportation of the family
    -storage of the body between services

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