Death Rituals Death and Dying Essay

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Viewing -- the "viewing" is not exclusively a Catholic rite, but is more traditional with Catholic services. It is also called a reviewal or funeral visitation. This is the time in which friends and the family come to see the deceased after the body has been prepared by a funeral home. A viewing may take place at a funeral parlor, in a family home, or Church/Chapel prior to the actual funeral service. It is sometimes combined with the celebration of the deceased's life, called a wake. Typically, it makes it easier for some to accept the reality of death, experiencing the viewing of a body and saying goodbye instead of interpersonal notifications ("Questions About Funerals," n.d.).

Wake -- a Wake is a cultural feature, particularly Irish, sometimes Italian, and European. It is a ceremony associated with death, typically taking place at a home or meeting hall in which people can meet, share food and drink, and celebrate the life of the deceased (Vidmar).

If a death is sudden and unexpected, Catholic rites are different than in an illness or if the family knows the end is near. If a child dies, the hope is that the child has been baptized prior to death, although modern Catholics do believe the unbaptized (the innocent) can be saved (Hutchison, 2009). For an adult, the "Last Rights" -- or in this case, the Extreme Unction, also known as the "Final Anointing." They are Confession (if the dying person is physically unable to confess, at least absolution, conditional on the existence of contrition), and the Eucharist (Catechism of the Catholic Church). The Catholic view is that when you die you go either to heaven, hell or purgatory. Purgatory is the place where you go if you are not yet worthy to enter into heaven. The souls there have to become purged of their sins so that they can be united with the All-perfect God. Catholics have biblical proof of purgatory in the book of Maccabees, which was removed from the Protestant bible ("Purgatory," 2009). Fortunately, for most of the faithful, a Catholic who has given confession and received absolution is sinless, then upon death may ascend into heaven.

Comparative Views on Suicide -- Because of the nature of the death ritual that so affected me, it is more useful for me to compare the ideas and traditions of other religious views on suicide than on the entire death ritual and process. Within the United States, the process of death and dying seems more focused on a ritual for the living -- ways to come to terms with the death of a loved one and a process to which the family or friends can use to grieve or, in the case of suicide, find some semblance of comfort and peace knowing that the person who died may still be able to find peace in death. In almost all cases, self-inflicted suicide is the result of great internal pain and depression. This could be for financial reasons, physical reasons (chemical imbalances) or simply a view of hopelessness and tragedy. The individual who commits suicide is at their breaking point, they are not thinking logically, but emotionally and find no alternative available (Andrew, 2010).

Philosophically, some see suicide as a personal right, a right of personal choice because no one should be required to suffer against their will -- especially from conditions that have no possibility of improvement. Proponents of this view reject the belief that suicide is irrational and that anyone who goes to such lengths should be denied religious comfort (Robonson, 2005). The major religions though, seem to be publically conservative and intolerant (based on dogma), yet most are privately compassionate, allowing the appropriate death rituals for the families. For instance, Islam finds that suicide is utterly detrimental to one's ultimate spiritual journey, the equivalent of an eternal sin in Christianity; Judaism forbids it as the ultimate arrogance against God, regardless of the circumstances; and although Buddhism is generally anti-suicide, it does allow for the precept that it depends on which level of enlightenment the person might be (Hood, Hill and Spilka, 2009).

Essentially, under the rubric of the ritual of death and dying; the reason for a person's death should have no effect upon the way that death is celebrated. The process of grieving is based on the needs of those left behind, it is the way in which we as humans prepare our own psyches to understand that the physical make-up of that individual is no longer with us. One does not expect to have a different process or procedure if one dies in an airplane accident, a terrorist attack, or on the roadway -- and it is the same if one dies of an illness or self-inflicted wound. The point, too, of religion is not only to have a spiritual outline to follow, but also an institution designed to provide structure and comfort during the inexplicable moments of life. This, then, should be the true nature of the ritual of death; comfort for the soul and celebration for the life of the person past.

Works Cited

20th Century Democide. (2001, January). Retrieved December 2010, from MegaNu Statistics:

Cathechism of the Catholic Church - Part 3 - Life in Christ. (2010, March). Retrieved December 2010, from the Vatican:

Andrew, L. (2010, October 21). Depression and Suicide. Retrieved December 2010, from Emedicine - WebMD:

Bokenkotter, T. (2005). A Concise History of the Catholic Church. Image Press.

Bugnini, a. (1990). The Reform of the Liturgy: 1948-1975. Liturgical Press.

Champlin, J. (1990). Through Death to Life: Preparing to Celebrate the Funeral Mass. Ave Maria Press.

Code of Canon Law." (n.d.). Liberia Editrice Vaticana. Ecclesiastical Funerals.

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Curley, T. (2005). Planning the Catholic Funeral. Liturgical PressHood, Hill and Spilka. (2009). The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach. New York: Guilford Press.

Huttenback, H. (2007, November 18). A Genocide Theory: In Search of Knoledge and the Quest for Meaning. Retrieved November 2010, from Encyclopedia of Mass Violence:

Kellehear, a. (2007). A Social History of Dying. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Kubler-Ross, E. (2005). On Grief and Grieving: Finding the meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Messerli, J. (2007, march 4). Should an Incurably-Ill Patient Be Able to Commit Physician-Assisted Suicide? Retrieved December 2010, from Balaned Politics:

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Rice, P. (2005). A Catholic Funeral. Ligouri Press.

Robonson, S. (2005, March 27). Europe's Way of Death. Retrieved December 2010, from Time Magainze:,9171,901050404-1042414,00.html

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