On May 19, 1886, the following decree was issued at Rome: “Several bishops and prudent members of Christ’s flock, knowing that certain men possessed of doubtful faith, or belonging to the Masonic sect, strongly contend at the present day for the practice of Pagan custom of cremation, founding special societies to spread this custom, fear lest the minds of the faithful may be worked upon by those wiles and sophistries so as to lose by decree esteem and reverence towards the constant Christian image of burying the bodies of the faithful – a usage hallowed by the solemn rites of the Church.
In order, therefore, that some fixed rule may be laid down for the faithful, to preserve them from the insidious doctrines above mentioned, the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition is asked:
“1. Is it lawful to become a member of those societies whose object is to spread the practice of cremation?
“2. Is it lawful to leave orders for the burning of one’s own body or that of another?
“Their Eminences the Cardinals General Inquisitors, after grave and mature consideration, answered:
“To the first question, No; and if it is a question of societies connected with the Masonic sect, the penalties pronounced against this sect would be incurred.
To the second, No.“When these decisions were referred to our Holy Father, Pope Leo XIII., His Holiness approved and confirmed them, and directed them to be communicated to the bishops, in order that they might instruct the faithful upon detestable abuse of burning the bodies of the dead, and might do all in their power to keep the flock entrusted to their charge from such a practice.”
We have given this decree in full, so that the exact position of the Church’s teaching concerning cremation may be clearly seen. There is nothing intrinsically wrong in burning the bodies of the dead. The practice might become necessary at times of excessive mortality or of danger to the living, e.g. after a battle or during a plague. But in ordinary times cremation disturbs the pious sentiments of the faithful; it is not in keeping with the beautiful rites of Christian burial; and it has been introduced by enemies of the Church for the purpose of shutting her out from one of her most touching functions. These reasons justify the condemnation above quoted. To go into various sanitary, legal, and economical arguments for and against cremation would be beyond the scope of the present work.
Source: A Catholic Dictionary. Eleventh Edition, 1928. London. Page 242.