Belief in the resurrection of the dead is an essential part of Christian revelation. It implies a particular understanding of the ineluctable mystery of death. Death is the end of our earthly life, but ‘not of our existence’ (St Ambrose) since the soul is immortal. ‘Our lives are measured by time, in the course of which we change, grow old and, as with all living beings on earth, death seems like the normal end of life’ (CCC, 1007). Seen from the perspective of the faith, ‘death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny’ (CCC, 1013).
Death is the passage to the fullness of true life. Death is the prolongation, in a new way, of life as the liturgy says: ‘For your faithful, O Lord, life has changed not ended; while our earthly dwelling is destroyed, a new and eternal dwelling is prepared for us in Heaven’ (Missal, Preface). The death of a Christian is an event of grace, having as it does, a positive value and significance in Christ and through Christ. According to the faith of the Church, ‘to die in Christ’ begins at baptism. In Baptism, the Lord’s disciples sacramentally die in Christ so as to live a new life.
From the earliest days of the Christian religion the Church has honoured with great respect the memory of the dead. The whole month of November is an interesting time of prayer in the Church as it is filled with many important feast days and it includes the day on which we commemorate all the faithful departed – All Souls’ Day or more formally ‘the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed’ on 2 November.
‘Indeed, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honoured with great respect the memory of the dead; and “because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins” (2 Mac 12, 46) she offers her suffrages for them. These consist, primarily, in the celebration of the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist, mercy, and the application of indulgences to the souls of the faithful departed’ (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, 251).
whose days are without end and whose mercies beyond counting,
keep us mindful that life is short and the hour of death unknown.
Let your Spirit guide our days on earth in the ways of holiness and justice,
that we may serve you in union with the whole Church,
sure in faith, strong in hope, perfect in love.
And when our earthly journey is ended,
lead us rejoicing into your kingdom,
where you live forever and ever.
(Order of Christian Funerals, 332)