News & Updates

Green burials and our faith

The practice of green burial is completely consistent with the Catholic faith and its tradition of burying the dead.

As we continue to care for Earth, our Common Home, by living with consciousness of the impact of our every choice on our planet, our EarthCARE committee offers information on how our death and burial can also be a gift to Earth. This month our EarthCARE Update offers answers to frequently asked questions about green burial.

wicker casket on a wheeled cart
Biodegradable casket

What is green burial?

Green burial is an environmentally sustainable end-of-life option that allows one to return to the earth naturally. Green burial is not something new. Until the advent of embalming science 150 years ago, it was the traditional way burial took place. Green burial or natural burial actually goes back in time to the way burial practices once were before today’s conventional methods took hold. In a green burial, humans are returned to the earth as simply as possible, ensuring the burial site remains natural in all respects. The interment of one’s remains is made in a biodegradable casket or shroud. The body is not embalmed or if so, only natural and organic products are used so that there is no interruption in the natural ecosystem.

What makes something a green burial?

In order for a burial to be considered green, there are three (3) criteria.

  1. No embalming or the use of toxic chemicals when preparing the body – conventional embalming chemicals such as formaldehyde can have a negative impact on the environment. The body is still washed and disinfected when applicable with ecologically safe chemicals.
  2. Absence of a vault/liner – Vaults and liners are commonly required by cemeteries to keep the earth above stable for landscaping purposes. Vaults and liners prolong the return of the body to the earth and therefore aren’t considered “green.”
  3. Use of biodegradable casket and/or shroud – a casket or shroud made of organic materials (i.e. all wood casket or cotton shroud) does not inhibit the body from returning naturally to the earth like some metal caskets or clothing made of synthetic material would. Organic materials easily break down and pose less of a risk to the environment.

How does green burial align with the Catholic faith?

The practice of green burial is completely consistent with the Catholic faith and its tradition of burying the dead. Although embalming facilitates modern day funeral practices, it is easy to faithfully follow the Catholic Funeral Rite when choosing green burial, provided there is careful planning by the family and willingness and cooperation from the local funeral home.

At this time, the Diocese of Scranton and St. Catherine’s Cemetery are not yet ready for green burials.

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