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In such cases the Church is often compelled to waive her right, in order to prevent greater evils.
On the other hand, we may notice that the Church's claim to exercise control over the burial of her members dates back to an age anterior even to the freedom given to Christianity under Constantine. Hilary, a century later, considers that Our Saviour warned His disciples against a similar profanation "Admonuit non admisceri memoriis sanctorum mortuos infideles" (Hilary, in S. So also the Donatists when they gained the upper hand were so deeply imbued with this principle of exclusive sepulture that they would not allow the Catholics to be buried in the cemeteries they had seized upon.
In all such cases, however, the general practice of the Church at the present day has been to interpret these prohibitions as mildly as possible.
Ordinarily the parish priest is directed to refer doubtful cases to the bishop, and the bishop, if any favourable construction can be found, allows the burial to proceed.
According to the canon law every man is free to choose for himself the burial ground in which he wishes to be interred.
It is not necessary that this choice should be formally registered in his will. Concilii, 24 march, 1871, Lex, 189.) Where no wish has been expressed it will be assumed that the interment is to take place in any vault or burial place which may have belonged to the deceased or his family, and failing this the remains should be buried in the cemetery of the parish in which the deceased had his domicile or quasi-domicile.
In defense of the Church's recent prohibitions, it may be urged that the revival of cremation in modern times has in practice been prompted less by considerations of improved hygiene or psychological sentiment than by avowed materialism and opposition to Catholic teaching.
Amongst the Greeks and Romans both cremation and interment were practised indifferently.
That the early Christians from the beginning used only burial seems certain. L., III, 266), and from the stress laid upon the analogy between the resurrection of the body and the Resurrection of Christ ( 1 Corinthians ; cf.
It has further been recognized as a principle that the last rites of the Church constitute a mark of respect which is not to be shown to those who in their lives have proved themselves unworthy of it.
In this way various classes of persons are excluded from Christian burial -- pagans, Jews, infidels, heretics, and their adherents (Rit. ii) schismatics, apostates, and persons who have been excommunicated by name or placed under an interdict.
From the beginning the principle seems to have been insisted upon that the faithful should be buried apart from the pagans. Cyprian of Carthage makes it a matter of reproach against a Spanish bishop Martial that he had not sufficiently attended to this, and that he had tolerated "filios exterarum gentium more apud profana sepulchra depositos et alienigenis consepultos" (Cyprian, Ep. "Ad hoc basilicas invadere voluistis ut vobis solis coemeteria vindicetis, non permittentes sepeliri corpora Catholica" (Optatus, VI, vii).