In my last morceau I began a consideration of a subject that we don’t usually consider unless we have to: death. It’s a common human experience we all deal with, first with others and eventually for self! Once we consider some general things about it, we’ll deal with the way the Church reflects our faith in its funeral liturgies.
I began last time by mentioning that death is, scientifically, the end of life, and that religiously-speaking, it’s the beginning of a new life. But perhaps it’s better to say that death for human beings is the end of one kind of life, and a transition to another kind of life. This is because we remain the same person, and just experience a change in the way we exist.
Human beings, after all, are comprised of the unity of both body and soul. It is our physical body which perishes at death, but our soul, created uniquely by God at our conception, is immortal and lives forever. Article 366 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, building upon doctrines that are many centuries old, points out that “The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.”
This “final Resurrection” is the famous “resurrection of the body,” belief in which we swear in the Apostles’ Creed. As St. Paul noted, “the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through His Spirit that dwells in you” (Rom 8:11). True, the body with which our soul will be re-united will be a “glorified body,” re-animated miraculously in a new and different form somehow by the power of God despite the decomposition which occurs after death (CCC, arts. 997 and 999). But no matter its physical characteristics, it shall be truly our body, so that we once again are “whole and entire.” Human beings do not become angels after death (for angels as purely spiritual beings by definition never have had or ever do have a body: see the Catechism, art. 328), for our existence – patterned after the Lord Jesus Himself – is more complete. In the best sense we shall be ourselves again, and that is a comforting thought.
All of this brings up ideas – like incorruptibility, relationships after death and with those already dead, eternity and the Last Judgment – which we have to discuss further in the next morceaux!