Bury the dead

| Father Michael Van Sloun | September 7, 2016 | 0 Comments

The seventh corporal work of mercy is to bury the dead. It is different from the other six because it is not given by Jesus with his set of judgment criteria (Mt 25:35-36), but was added later to round out the list to the biblical number of seven. Also, it isn’t directed to the bodily needs of someone who is living, but rather to the body of someone who has died.

A corpse deserves to be treated with the utmost respect. While a person is alive, the body serves as a temple of God (1 Cor 3:16,17), a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19) and a tent (2 Cor 5:1-9) — the place where God and the Spirit dwell within a person, as well as the home for a person’s soul. This makes the physical body sacred. After death, once the soul has departed and God’s special abiding presence has come to an end, the remains should be accorded great reverence in honor of all that was holy that took place in that body over a lifetime.

The body of Jesus is most holy, and after his death on the cross, his remains deserved proper burial. It was an act of mercy for Joseph of Arimathea to request the body of Jesus, take it down, wash it, wrap it in a clean linen cloth and lay it in a tomb; for Nicodemus to provide a mixture of myrrh and aloes; and for Mary Magdalene and the other women to prepare spices and perfumed oils to anoint his body.

There are several other notable burials in the New Testament. After John the Baptist was beheaded, “his disciples came and took away the corpse and buried him” (Mt 14:12). When Lazarus died, his body was wrapped in burial bands, his face wrapped in a cloth, and laid in a tomb. After Stephen was stoned, “Devout men buried Stephen” (Acts 8:2).

It is an act of mercy to provide a dignified burial for someone who has died. It begins at the moment of death with prayer and subdued, well-mannered behavior. It continues with making funeral arrangements: the call to the funeral home, the removal of the body, the selection of the casket or urn and the burial vault, planning the visitation and funeral liturgy, the obituary, memorial cards, flowers, luncheon, the graveside service and the grave marker. Everything done to care for the body of the deceased is an act of love and mercy.

Another aspect of this work of mercy is to pray for the dead, to attend the wake or the vigil, the funeral Mass or memorial service or the committal rite at the cemetery. Other prayers include Mass intentions, the rosary or cemetery visits at a later date with graveside prayer.

This act of mercy is performed professionally by funeral directors under the patronage of St. Joseph of Arimathea, undertakers under the patronage of St. Dismas and grave diggers under the patronage of
St. Anthony the Abbot. Others who care for the dead body include the coroner and the medical examiner.

Many others play important roles in the burial of the dead, particularly at funerals. To bury the dead is a good work pleasing to God.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. Read more of his reflections at CatholicHotdish.com.

Tags: ,

Category: Year of Mercy