Living Eternally Through Death and Dying – Part 5: Living Trusts, Bequeaths, and Memorial Masses

“Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”(Lk 6:38)

  1. Gifts of Love:  Many who have been faithful and sacrificial in their lifetimes continue their giving after they depart from this world. A meaningful and simple way to support the work of Christ awaits everyone who includes his/her parish in a trust or in a will. Creating a living trust or bequeathing all or a portion of one’s estate to the mission of Christ through His Body, the Church, helps assure one’s loving ministry continues through Christ. Our bequest will allow us to make an impact in perpetuity.

a.   A living trust is a legal document. It can provide us with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that our well-deserved material wealth will be protected in the unexpected event of our physical or mental capacity failing. A living trust can be written in a way that will pass our assets on to our beneficiaries immediately upon our death. Or, we can designate that they be portioned out over time, in amounts that we specify. A living trust not only provides for one’s family, but the trust is also a wonderful way to make a gift to the Church, for the progress of Jesus in the world.

b.  A charitable bequest is simply a distribution from one’s estate to a charitable organization through one’s last will and testament. For as long as we live in this world, we keep for our own the assets we have earned; and, we can change our plans whenever we wish.

“You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God.” (2 Cor 9:11)

  1. Remembering Our Beloved Dead: There is a strong spiritual relationship that exists between the members of the Church- the militant Church (those living on the earth), the suffering Church (those in purgatory), and the triumphant Church (those saints in heaven). We, the living members of the Church, often assist one another in faith by our prayers, sacrifices and spiritual support for each other. Likewise, our prayers for the dead express hope that God will free the person who has died from any burden of sin and prepare a place for him or her in heaven.

a.   A precious soul in the state of purgatory is able to receive any spiritual benefit passively. God’s mercy is poured out to them and our prayers rise to assist them. Until the soul is in the presence of God (and becomes a saint), the person is not capable of performing new meritorious acts. While such a soul is heaven-bound, it cannot increase in sanctity but only be purified of those imperfections which impede its definitive entrance into glory. We cannot enter heaven if we have not been completely cleansed of sin and all punishment due to sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1031 and 1472).

b. The Memorial Mass: The greatest prayer that we can offer for the dead is the prayer of Christ on the Cross, the sacrifice of the Mass; it is the “source and summit” of our Catholic life. We, the faithful, unite the souls of our loved ones to the Death and Resurrection of Christ when we have Memorial Masses celebrated for their joyful repose. This help to their salvation may take place on the anniversary of their death, their birthday, their baptism Day or any time when Mass is celebrated. 

The Catechism asserts, “From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic Sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1032).

This tradition of offering Masses for others, particularly the dead, originates in the early Church. The epitaph on the tomb of Abercius (c.a. 180), Bishop of Hieropolis in Phrygia, asks for prayers for the repose of his soul. St. Hippolytus of Rome (c.a. 235) mentions explicitly the offering of prayers for the dead during the Mass.

It is comforting to know that our individual prayers and our intentions offered in Holy Mass make a difference. The love, which our prayers express, cannot be in vain, “love is as strong as death” (Song of Songs 8:6). 

Living Eternally Through Death and Dying – Part 4: The Communion of Saints

The deep longing for all humanity to be in perfect love and unity with each other and with God is fulfilled by God, through Christ Jesus. This is the Communion of Saints. 

I. The bond we all share, the living and the dead, is because of Christ who is God and who took on our human flesh so that all humanity might be brought into perfect love and unity in him. Because of Jesus, one body is formed of all whose flesh He took on Himself.

II. The Communion of Saints creates a spiritual unity in Christ in which “If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice . . . In this solidarity with all men, living or dead, which is founded on the Communion of Saints, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all.“ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 953). 

“None of us lives for oneself and no one dies for oneself” (Romans 14:7)

III. All Christians, by virtue of their baptism are incorporated into the mystical Body of Christ crucified and glorified (Col. 2:12). “Now, you are Christ’s Body and individually parts of it” (1 Cor. 12:26-27).  They are members of the Communion of Saints, a union which exists between the members of the Church on earth with one another, with the suffering souls in purgatory, and with the blessed souls in heaven. Our beloved faithful departed continue their journey into the life of Christ along with those still alive because of Jesus uniting us.

Physical death does not separate us from the Body of Christ. “Neither death nor life … can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39). 

IV. The three states of the Church: Earth, Purgatory, Heaven. “At the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 954). These “three states” traditionally are known as: The Church Militant, The Church Suffering, and The Church Triumphant.

State One – Traditionally The Church Militant: the faithful on Earth, the Church fighting the good fight, running the good race. The Church Militant labors to save their own souls and the souls of those around them. Their goal is to help establish the Kingdom of God on Earth.

State Two – Traditionally The Church Suffering: the souls in Purgatory, those who died in communion with God, but with some unremitted sins. These souls in Purgatory are assured of Heaven, but presently are in the process of being purified and perfected. “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins” (2 Macc 12:45).

State Three – Traditionally The Church Triumphant: the saints glorified in Heaven. These holy saints have triumphed over evil, have been purged of sin, and now are worthy to stand in the presence of God.

  1. The Solemnity of All Saints (Nov. 1) celebrates all the saints, those named by the Church and the countless assembly of the saints whose names are known by God. The faithful worshipers who gather on the earth do so caught up in the profound “Communion” between heaven and Holy Mass held together in Christ. 
  2. Intercession: Since the Church has received and holds that the Communion of Saints as a Truth which God sustains, the power of intercessory prayer follows directly. The martyrs and the rest of the saints and, indeed, all who have died in Christ are not separated from those who remain on the earth. Since the saints are in eternal communion with God, their role in salvation is to pray for us.

There is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus. This is certainly true. To ask for a saint’s intercession is simply asking for prayers from the Triumphant, just as we might ask a friend to pray for us. Our prayer to the saints for help on our spiritual journey reflects a two-fold understanding: first, our Communion with them, and second, their capacity to encourage us from the throne of Christ.

Living Eternally Through Death and Dying – Part 3: The Power of Ritualizing Death and Resurrection

“In the face of death, the Church confidently proclaims that God has created each person for eternal life and that Jesus, the Son of God, by his death and resurrection, has broken the chains of sin and death that bound humanity.” (OCF [Order of Christian Funerals] #1)

The time following the death of a loved one is often one of heartrending grief for family and close friends. Through the meaningful celebration of the rites surrounding death, the Church manifests her tangible care for the living and her certain faith in Resurrection with Christ.

The Church ritualizes the phases of death’s reality through three distinct funeral rites.

  1. The Vigil (Wake) Service (emphasizing the consolation of the living who grieve and look with hope for the resurrection)
  2. The Funeral Liturgy of the Lord’s Resurrection (emphasizing the fact of Christ’s Victory over death)
  3. The Rite of Committal (emphasizing the dignity of the human body as sacred)

The Vigil Service

The vigil is often the first time family, friends and members of the parish community gather in remembrance of the deceased, for prayer and mutual support. This rite is usually celebrated on the eve before the Funeral Liturgy. It may be celebrated in the home of the deceased, in the funeral home, or even in the church.

The Funeral Liturgy

“The Funeral Liturgy is the central liturgical celebration of the Christian community for the deceased (OCF #128). There are two forms of the liturgy dependent upon circumstances: the Funeral Mass of the Lord’s Resurrection and the Funeral Liturgy Outside of Holy Mass.

Funeral Mass

The “Mass of Christian Burial”, focuses on Christ Jesus, who loves us totally and so endured the grave Himself, in order to conquer it. It is the greatest expression of the Church’s faith and Christ’s Victory. Through the action of Holy Mass, the life and death of our loved one is mystically united to the Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus poured forth. Beautiful imagery makes the symbols of one’s Baptism visible again at the funeral Mass. Where our Baptism is the beginning of our eternal life in Christ, so the signs and symbols which fill the Funeral Mass harken back to the moment when Christ began to live eternally within us.

First, the casket carrying the body is brought into the Church draped with a white pall, reminiscent of the garment which clothes us at our Baptism. The lit Paschal candle (Easter Candle) is the sign of the triumph of Christ over death. This light of Resurrection burns aside the casket. At the funeral Mass, we behold the same light of Christ, trusting Jesus to lead us through the darkness of death to the fullness of His Kingdom. The casket is then sprinkled with holy water, recalling the water of our Baptism through which we died and rose with Christ in us.

The Funeral Liturgy Outside of Mass

In special circumstances (Sundays of Advent, Lent and Easter; Solemnities that are Holy Days of Obligation; Holy Thursday and the Paschal Triduum) celebration of a Funeral Mass is prohibited. The Funeral Liturgy Outside of Holy Mass may be a more suitable form of celebration at these times. The same symbolism as found in the Funeral Mass may be identified in the Funeral Liturgy Outside of Mass.

The Rite of Committal

The Rite of Committal is the final Funeral Rite. It “is the final act of the community of faith in caring for the body of its deceased member.” (OCF #204) This rite is an act of faith in which we entrust to God (commend) our loved one and commit his/her body (or cremated remains) to a place that has been consecrated. This rite takes place grave-side, or perhaps at the place of a columbarium or other blessed location for burial.


Through the centuries, the Church has followed the practice of burial or entombment of the human body, after the manner of Christ’s burial. This expresses respect for the human body, baptized into the Body of Christ which promises resurrection of the body. “The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless it is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (canon 1176 § 3). If cremation is selected, it would ordinarily take place after the Funeral Liturgy.

Cremated remains should never be scattered, but are to be interred or inurned in a cemetery columbarium. The scattering of cremated remains on the ground or on the sea or keeping any portion of them for personal reasons is not reverent to the final disposition that the Church directs. It should be noted that burial at sea of cremated remains differs from scattering. An appropriate and worthy container, heavy enough to be sent to its final resting place, may be dropped into the sea.


CareGuides for the Care Team, Seven Spiritual Practices for Caring Helpers, Abbey Press, St. Meinrad, IN.

CareNotes and PrayerNotes, Abbey Press, St. Meinrad, IN.

National Alliance for Caregiving, phone 301-718-8444 or

The Friends of St. John the Caregiver.

Living Eternally Through Death and Dying – Part 2: Caring For They Who Care For Us

“When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” (John 19:26-27). From this moment on, John took Mary into his home and cared for her.

Like St. John at the foot of the cross, caregivers are people who answer yes to God’s invitation to be the very hands of God caring for a loved one. No matter how we arrived at this point, we know that taking care of someone who needs assistance can be very rewarding, but it may also exact a high toll.

Caregiver stress is very common. As caregivers, “we instinctively want to take the pain away. Yet, to truly companion another human being requires that we sit with the pain as we overcome the instinct to want to ‘fix’.” (Handbook for Companioning the Mourner, Wolfet, p.16).  This desire is so compelling that many caregivers will drop other activities and focus all of their time and energy on their companion. (Companioning the Dying, Yoder, p.121).  Don’t make this mistake!

We must not allow ourselves to become so focused on caring for a loved one that we fail to realize that we may be placing our own health and well-being in jeopardy. Remain alert and prepared to respond to these indicators of stress:

  • Tired most of the time
  • Overwhelmed and irritable
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Unexplained gain or loss of weight
  • Loss of interest in activities we used to enjoy
  • The false impression that we are alone in this difficulty.

In addition to the physical, psychological and emotional impact upon a care-giver, the spiritual dynamics cannot be overlooked. It is vitally important that we recognize the spiritual reality of what we have been called to share. Realizing that what we’re doing is actually a living prayer, and that the suffering we share in is a share in the sufferings of Jesus, these are transformative blessings for us and for those dependent on us too.

The demands of caring for a loved one may, at times, seem overwhelming. We may feel isolated and on our own, however God assures us that He is with us! He is ready to give us His comfort, support, strength, and healing. All we need to do is ask (Psalm 30:3).

While we may sometimes feel overworked and unappreciated, God recognizes our loving efforts. Jesus himself tells us “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25: 34-36) God blesses the caregiver.


CareGuides for the Care Team, Seven Spiritual Practices for Caring Helpers, Abbey Press, St. Meinrad, IN.

CareNotes and PrayerNotes, Abbey Press, St. Meinrad, IN.

National Alliance for Caregiving, phone 301-718-8444 or

The Friends of St. John the Caregiver.

Living Eternally Through Death and Dying – Part 1

As much as we don’t like to dwell on death, it is a real part of our lives. Our faith faces the reality of death and the anguish of grief and trusts confidently that the power of sin and death has been vanquished by Christ. The faith of the community in the resurrection of the dead brings support and strength to those who suffer the loss of those whom they love. Reflecting God’s Love, the Church calls each member to participate in the ministry of consolation: to care for the dying, to pray for the dead, to comfort those who mourn. (Order of Christian Funerals)

“It is in the face of death that the riddle of human existence becomes most acute. Not only is man tormented by pain and by the advancing deterioration of his body, but even more so by a dread of perpetual extinction. He rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors and repudiates the absolute ruin and total disappearance of his own person.

Man rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannot be reduced to sheer matter. All the endeavors of technology, though useful in the extreme, cannot calm his anxiety. . .

The Church has been taught by divine revelation, and herself firmly teaches, that man has been created by God for a blissful purpose beyond the reach of earthly misery. In addition, that bodily death from which man would have been immune had he not sinned will be vanquished.” (Most Reverend James T. McHugh Bishop of Camden)