Cheltenham crem curtains (source)
Posted by Richard Rawlinson
No. 1: The committal is when the curtains of the crematorium’s catafalque close.
The final committal is when the ashes from a cremated body are buried in an urn, or perhaps ceremoniously scattered to the wind. Or, of course, when the body is buried intact in a coffin, cutting out the crem altogether with its recorded music, ‘in and out’ process, and general lack of spiritual warmth.
Crematoria, although they have ‘chapels’, are not consecrated churches but more a hybrid of secular theatre and factory. They’re useful and, sometimes, attractive venues for ceremonial respect-paying for the many with no allegiance to a church, but not a substitute for a church for those who belong to one.
But whether theist or atheist, surely any disposal of ashes by crem staff who have no link with the dead person is an unsatisfactory disposal. Crems may work as a venue for a memorial service, and as a process to prepare the body for the final committal, but that’s it.
For Christians, the two-centre ritual is often a farce with the first part in church and second part consisting of a few minutes in a crem, often after a tedious road journey. Everything that needed to be said has been said in the church and the crem service’s extra prayers and hymn can seem like extraneous padding.
But because people confuse the crem with the committal they go along with the two services, and then overlook the final committal of ashes. This is also why some Christians avoid the hassle of two-centre ritual and head, along with their priest, straight to the crem, cutting out the church which may have played a significant part in their family’s spiritual and social life.
Anyway, we waved her off in the hearse outside a central London church as it headed to a crem in the distant suburbs. We then walked round the corner for a boozy restaurant lunch of sad and amused reminiscences, leaving her in the care of the undertakers. It was not abandonment because the final burial of her ashes took place a biblical 40 days later, a pastorally significant end to an initial period of mourning. There was no need to hallow a factory process.