Catholic Understanding of Death
Over the course of their lives, men are born, grow up, mature, grow old, and die. The cycle of life is the same for all life on earth — for animals and plants as well as for human beings. What separates humans is our awareness of death and our ability to choose to do good during our limited time on earth. After death, we can no longer make choices regarding our destiny.
Death is one of the evils attendant on man in his fallen state; it entered the world on account of sin, as is described in the Book of Genesis. However, death is also viewed as the gateway to everlasting life. For Christians, death is also positive, for it is through death, shared with us by Christ, that we can also share in his glory. “The saying is trustworthy: if we have died with him we shall also live with him,” wrote Paul (2 Timothy 2:11).
Through the sacrament of Baptism, the Christian has already identified with Christ's death. Those who die in Christ's grace share his death more completely — they become totally incorporated in him. Catholics can experience a desire for death, like that expressed by saints and mystics. Paul wrote, “I long to depart this life and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23). “I want to see God, and, in order to see him, I must die,” wrote St. Teresa of ávila in her
The Church teaches that the suffering and the dying should be treated with respect and care because they are members of Christ's body, and as such, that they participate in the suffering and death of Christ. The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and the Holy Eucharist are rites the Church uses to help the faithful prepare for death.
The Church encourages people to prepare themselves for the hour of their death. The ancient Litany of the Saints contains the petition, “From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord.” St. Joseph is the patron saint of the happy death, and in the Hail Mary, one of the most popular Catholic prayers, Catholics beseech Mary to “pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”