Our Catholic Faith’s Teachings about Death – Part I
Dear friends in Christ:
We are all going to die! (How is that for an opening sentence?) It is in the presence of this reality that our Catholic Faith makes great sense. God offers salvation and eternal life to every man, woman and child. God wills that all be saved. The reason that Jesus came into the world is that we might not perish but have eternal life with God in heaven. Yet that does not change the reality of death or exempt us from it! Death is a part of life and also a part of our Catholic faith. We pray at the Funeral Mass:
“Life is changed not ended! When our earthly body lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling in heaven.”
As Catholics, we view death as both a loss and gain. We do not try to sanitize the reality of death’s pain and loss. Likewise, death is the time for us to express and embrace the truths of our Catholic Faith. Paradoxically, in our contemporary “culture of death”, there is a widespread denial of death and a desire to avoid the harshness of death. Increasingly in our society, death is treated trivially. This trivialization of death reflects the growing disrespect our society has for life. The contemporary attitude of not wanting to face the sadness, pain and grief caused by death results in attempts to make funeral rites “happy”. Such attempts are inconsistent and are in conflict with our basic human emotions and our Christian Faith. Such attempts to deny the sadness of death end futilely. This attitude is not healthy psychologically, emotionally or spiritually. While death is a mystery, it is also very real. If death has no sadness or loss what does that say about the life or eternal life? If death is nothing or only happy, what need is there of salvation or the value of the promise of resurrection? The rites of the Church at the time of death teach us eternal truths, and they assist us with God’s grace in dealing with our pain and loss. The rites of the Church aid in strengthening our faith and hope. More importantly, when we participate in the rites and prayers of the Church, we assist those who have died and those who mourn with our love and prayers.
At the time of death, there are also practical things that need to be done. The first thing for all of us is to prepare for our own deaths by living a holy life. Don’t be a stranger to God or his Church. Pray and work daily to live in a state of grace. Pray for a happy and holy death. This is for ourselves and our loved ones. For those near death, they or their family members should make sure that the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is received. For those who are unable to attend mass, the family should ask for a pastoral visit and Holy Communion to be brought to the home or care center. If in a hospital, call for the priest chaplain or call the parish for the sacraments. Do not delay in calling for a priest to administer the Sacrament of the Sick. Do not wait until the last moment.
When possible, just as with making pre-need plans with a funeral director ahead of time, one may also do the same for the funeral liturgy, though this is not obligatory or necessary. On our website, there is information to help with the planning of the funeral. Our Funeral Aid Ministry can be contacted ahead of time for assistance and guidance. It is important to communicate with family members and friends that you want a Catholic funeral. Written instructions are very helpful to family members in honoring the wishes of the deceased and in making decisions at a difficult time. These funeral instructions along with medical directives and will should be reviewed and updated periodically.
To be continued.
In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately