Tag Archives: body

The Assumption: Our Earthly Bodies and Heaven

August 14, 2013


Painting in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, MD.   Photo/Jim, the Photographer.  Licensed by Creative Commons.

Painting in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, MD. Photo/Jim, the Photographer. Licensed by Creative Commons.

I’ve sometimes wondered if the Blessed Mother experienced the wrinkles and pains of old age. She was human and by all accounts didn’t have an easy life. The Church tells us she had no pain when she gave birth to Our Lord, but during the rest of her life there must have been some hardship and suffering.

The dying who suffer terribly in their bodies are not always sad at the prospect of leaving them to meet God. Yet the Church teaches that the Lord did take His mother’s aged body to heaven at the Assumption.

As the angels bore her body there, maybe the aging process went in reverse so that by the time she got there she looked the way she has in her apparitions. That’s not to say she wasn’t equally beautiful in her later years on earth but she has mostly appeared to us as a younger-looking woman.

Why bring her earthly body to heaven?

God could have made a new body in heaven for the Blessed Virgin. Why did he choose to bring her earthly body which, if it’s like mine, came with runny nose, bad breath and hangnails? The most obvious answer is that her body was the tabernacle of the Most High, Christ’s first earthly home.  According to Father Canice Bourke, OFM Cap.:

The womb that bore Jesus Christ, the hands that caressed him, the arms that embraced him, the breasts that nourished him, the heart that so loved him — it is impossible to think that these crumbled into dust.

Another reason appears in what we profess in the Apostles Creed: “The resurrection of the body…” This essential Christian doctrine is explained in the Catechism:

We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess” (Council of Lyons II: DS 854). We sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but he raises up an incorruptible body, a “spiritual body.” (CCC 1017)

Our Lady was the first to receive the fruits of our redemption in her Immaculate Conception. She did not sin and it is believed that her body was immune to corruption. Would she not also be the first after Christ to experience the resurrection which all the faithful will experience?

Cremation for the Blessed Virgin?

According to the Golden Legend, a 13th century collection of saint biographies, Our Lady’s body was placed in a tomb for three days after her death (though whether she did actually die has been disputed by scholars for centuries). During that time, some who thought Christ was a traitor sought to burn her body.

It’s hard to imagine someone actively destroying the body of the Mother of God. And it makes me question whether we should do this to our own bodies, which St. Paul calls temples of the Holy Spirit.

The Church does allow cremation, “provided it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.” (CCC 2301)

Thankfully, it didn’t happen to the body of the Blessed Mother. According to the Golden Legend, Christ and a company of angels came to bring Our Lady’s body to heaven. St. Gregory, Bishop of Tours wrote in 594 AD:

“The Lord…commanded the body of Mary be taken in a cloud into paradise; where now, rejoined to the soul, Mary dwells with the chosen ones.”

I hope to be one of the chosen ones, up there in my body. Hopefully without the dry skin and wrinkles.

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Cremation and the scattering of ashes

September 30, 2011



Photo by _Skender_. Licensed through Creative Commons.

For as long as I can remember, my grandfather used to tell my brothers and me that he wanted to be cremated. Not understanding what it was about, cremation seemed like a scary thing to me.

As I got older, I didn’t know if the Church would allow it. In the end, though, grandpa got his wish–by the time he passed away in 2000, cremation was becoming more common among Catholics.

While I was researching respectful treatment of cadavers in an anatomy lab for a story in the Catholic Spirit, I started wondering exactly how the Church looks at the body at death, what she teaches about cremation and how we’re supposed to treat a person’s cremated remains.

The Catechism states that “the bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection.” (CCC 2300) Though we don’t know if our bodies in this life will be the ones we will have in eternal life, our bodies are a gift and they deserve special care and treatment, said Dr. Paul Wojda, associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas who teaches a course in bioethics.

“The Catholic position takes the body seriously, it takes material creation seriously,” he said.” It takes the earth seriously because of its deeply sacramental significance.”

So how does cremation come into this?

For centuries the church didn’t allow cremation because it saw the practice as an open denial of the Resurrection by non-Christians, Wojda said.

Then in 1963 the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified the regulation, permitting cremation in cases of necessity, but prohibiting it for anyone openly denying the faith. The 1983 Code of Canon Law states that a person may choose to be cremated if they have the right intention. (No. 1176, 3)

“It’s no longer the case that the Church frowns on it,” Wojda said. “It permits it but I wouldn’t say it’s out there promoting it. If you were cremated that used to be a clear sign that you were not religious, or not Christian or not Catholic but that’s no longer the case.”

While she permits cremation, the Church does not approve of scattering a loved one’s ashes or keeping them at home in an urn.

According to the Order of Christian Burial:

The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum  or columbarium (site for storage of cinerary urns). The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires.

Burial at sea is permitted, however. A person’s cremated remains “may be properly buried at sea in the urn, coffin or other container in which they have been carried to the place of committal.” (OCF 416)

A big problem with scattering someone’s ashes is that there’s no specific place to honor the person, Wojda said.

Also, he said, “I think what we have to recognize is that the scattering of ashes has been used historically and even up until the 20th century as a sign of contempt for the person who died.”

My grandpa had his reasons for wanted to be cremated. I’m glad he’s buried next to my grandma in a cemetery where I can honor them both.

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