When I began this little column in 2009, I did so because I knew that there are a lot of things which can get mentioned about the Catholic Church and our shared experience of faith that don’t often get mentioned elsewhere in the Parish Bulletin. Often I’ve concentrated on liturgical topics, and of course it’s always hard for me to resist the temptation to treat canonical topics. I am a canon lawyer, after all!
One liturgical topic which I haven’t yet broached is funerals. Along with this is the broader topic of death. These are very common experiences not only for believers but for all men and women. As the old joke goes, “The death rate’s the same as always: pretty much one per person!” Any consideration of death, of course, leads to the further question of “what happens next” to us. I think that all of this will be the focus of this article and indeed the whole next series of morceaux.
Scientifically, of course, death is the end of life. Something organic which has been alive – able to grow, and reproduce, often to eat and change and to conduct some other functional or describable activity – eventually reaches a point when its metabolism ceases these things. Some decomposition, at least, takes place as the formerly living thing reverts to inanimate matter. Forensically, that’s that.
But for the Christian, something more happens. It is a victory over pain and forsakenness, and a reunion with our Savior. “The Christian meaning of death is revealed in the light of the Paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ” … for “the Christian who dies in Christ Jesus is ‘away from the body and at home with the Lord.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1681, quoting 2 Cor 5:8).
As a result, we who believe, and who have adopted the ways of Jesus Christ as guide in our lives, look upon death differently from others. We understand it differently and our observances when confronted with it are certainly different too. We even talk about “celebrating” death and funerals, something quite odd for millions of people who’ve gone before us and still live around us. These are ideas we’ll explore in these morceaux in the weeks and months to come.