“Ask a Priest: Would It Be OK to Scatter My Wife’s Ashes at Sea?”

Q: My wife is a practicing Catholic, but her request for burial is for her ashes to be spread with the dolphins at sea with her Cindy Girl (our faithful dog that had passed away several years back). Will my wife still go to heaven if I follow her request? – A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: While the Church allows for cremation in some cases, it does not allow for the scattering of ashes.

A 2016 instruction from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Ad Resurgendum cum Christo,” says as much.

Paragraph No. 7 of that document says, “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. These courses of action cannot be legitimized by an appeal to the sanitary, social, or economic motives that may have occasioned the choice of cremation.” You can refer to the full text HERE.

Our bodies, while we are alive here on earth, are temples of the Holy Spirit from the moment of our baptism. And at the end of history, when Jesus comes again, we will be resurrected and our soul and body will be reunited. Burying our remains instead of scattering them is a more apt reminder of these truths of our faith; it respects these truths better. And besides, a specific burial place also allows surviving loved ones a location where they can go and pray for those who have died.

While it’s not the place of Ask a Priest to say who and who won’t make it to heaven, it might be good to dissuade your wife from her plans. Following Church teachings, and encouraging other Catholics to do so, is one way the faithful could improve their chances of reaching heaven someday.

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