What We Believe as Catholics
Catholics believe that at death “Life is changed, not ended.” Death is a passage to a new and fuller life, and ultimately to resurrection and eternal union with God.
When we are baptized we believe that our bodies are marked with the seal of the Holy Trinity. Since we are temples of the Holy Spirit we respect and honor the bodies of the dead and their places of rest.
The customs associated with the preparation of the body of the deceased are always marked with dignity and reverence and never with the despair of those who have no hope. Therefore, in the presence of the deceased, we turn to prayer. In this time of sorrow it is through prayer that we receive the necessary grace and consoling assurances of our faith.
For the final disposition of the body, it is the ancient Christian custom to bury or entomb the bodies of the dead in a consecrated and holy place.
If you have ever wondered why Catholics have certain rituals and practices at the time of death, then you are not alone. Our faith in the Paschal Mystery (the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) reveals itself through the dying and death of each Christian. The following points are designed to invite reflection upon the meaning of what we do and believe at the time of a Christian’s death. We also hope that this information will guide you to a better understanding and appreciation of our beliefs and practices.
In facing death, we are reminded that God has created each person for eternal life. We celebrate the funeral rites to offer worship, praise and thanksgiving to God for the gift of a person’s life, which has now been returned to the Author of Life. At the death of a Christian, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased. We are confident in the conviction that death is not the end, nor does it break the bonds of family, friendship and community that are forged in life.
The Church through its funeral rites commends the dead to God’s merciful love and pleads for the forgiveness of his or her sins. The celebration of the Christian funeral brings hope and consolation to the living.
In the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Church celebrates Christ’s Passover from death to life and our participation in this great mystery. The faith of all the baptized is renewed and nourished in this celebration. The intimate connection between the baptism of the Christian into the death and resurrection of Christ and the Eucharistic celebration is one of the main reasons for offering the Mass for the deceased.
In summary, we believe that in celebrating the funeral rites, we affirm and express the union of the Church on earth with the Church in heaven in the one great communion of saints. Though separated from the living, the dead are still at one with the community of believers on earth and benefit from their prayers and intercession. In the gathering of the community of believers with the community of saints in heaven, we offer our prayers through the person of Jesus Christ in the greatest prayer of the Church, which is the Eucharist.