Today we observe Palm/Passion Sunday. It is an unusual celebration, beginning festively with the blessing of palms and celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and then going into the proclamation of the Passion of The Lord, with its betrayal, cowardice, unjust condemnation and terrible execution, ending with Jesus cold in the grave. It is a liturgy designed to cause us to ponder sober things.
In this sober vein I would like say that several people during our “Faithful To Our Mission” capital campaign have inquired about St. Austin’s having a columbarium. It seems that a few other parishes in our area have one or are planning one.
A columbarium is a structure with niches where urns or boxes with the cremated remains (sometimes called “cremains”) are stored. It is a cemetery for cremated remains. So if someone had a long association with our parish, or found our church attractive, or our community helpful, or just liked our parish, they may wish for their mortal remains to be kept in a structure here at the parish. The columbarium would allow them to do that. They would purchase a niche in their lifetime, and then when the time of death comes their remains would be interred in the columbarium. Fellow parishioners could see their resting place, remember them and pray for them.
The columbarium could be either in the church somewhere, or a free-standing structure outside the church, say in our courtyard, but on the parish grounds.
Some Catholics don’t realize that the Catholic Church now allows cremation. There is some history to this. In the earliest days of Christianity, all Christians were buried because that is what was commonly done in the Greco-Roman culture that Christians were a part of. It fit well with the central Christian belief in the resurrection of the body. Many centuries later, during the period called the Enlightenment, European free-thinkers, the “phillosophes”, regarded faith as old wives’ tales and superstition. And to show that they did NOT believe in the resurrection of the body they had their bodies cremated. It was their way of thumbing their now ashen noses at a central Christian belief. The Church, in reaction to this, banned cremation for the faithful. It was outlawed by the Church.
Jumping ahead a few more centuries to Vatican Council II, the Bishops of Indonesia at the Council asked the Church to permit cremation. That was their cultural custom, and they did not have the land needed for cemeteries. So the Church, in response, dropped the prohibition of cremation. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 2301, it states: “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.” Well of course, people get cremated today for many reasons: for cost, for concerns about the environment, for reasons of personal preference, etc. I have never heard of anyone getting cremated today as a declaration of disbelief in the resurrection of the body. So for Catholics cremation is OK.
Because we believe in the resurrection the human remains should still be treated with respect. They should be interred in a cemetery, or in a columbarium or other suitable location.
If you are considering cremation for yourself, and think you would be like to have your ashes interred in a columbarium at St. Austin’s Church, drop an email to PropertyCommittee@StAustin.org. It would be helpful to us to see if there is much interest in this possibility or not. Thank you.