Until the 1960s, the Catholic Church did not permit its members to be cremated. This prohibition was primarily based upon the Church’s tradition of respect for the human body, which, as Saint Paul records in 1 Corinthians 6:19, is “a temple of the Holy Spirit.” For this reason, the funeral ritual’s introduction makes the point that the human body has been made a temple by the Sacraments it has received through Christ: “Since in Baptism the body was marked with the seal of the Trinity and became the Temple of the Holy Spirit, Christians respect and honor the bodies of the dead and the places where they rest” (Ordo Exsequiarum 19).
The body is further made holy through the Sacraments of Holy Communion, through which it is nourished by Christ the Bread of life, and Confirmation, through which the seal of the Holy Spirit is imprinted on the individual.
For these reasons, it is the preference of the Church that, even in cases wherein cremation is to take place, the body of the deceased be present for the funeral Mass. It is preferred that cremation take place subsequent to the funeral Liturgy, with the remains being properly interred thereafter. Cremated remains are never to be scattered as mere rubbish. As the body is a sacred temple, so also the remains of the individual washed, nourished, and sealed through the Sacraments, are sacred.
Nevertheless in some cases it is not possible for the body of an individual to be present for the funeral Mass and in extenuating circumstances a funeral Mass is permitted in the presence of cremated remains, or cremains. This decision should not be made lightly. The decision for cremation should not be inspired by motives contrary to Christian teaching. Thus financial concerns should not normally dictate choosing the option for cremation.
The ritual of a funeral Liturgy for and in the presence of those who have been cremated is altered only slightly, in that:
the minister sprinkles the cremains, saying “As our brother/sister N. has died with the Lord, so may he/she live with Him in glory”;
the covering of the cremated remains with a pall, or veil, is omitted;
all prayers making reference to honoring, or burying of the body are substituted with other valid options contained in the Ritual;
the dismissal, “In the sure hope of the Resurrection, we take leave of our brother/sister: let us go in peace,” and its response, “thanks be to God,” is used.