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Burying the Dead During the Year of Mercy

Bury the Dead for the Year of Mercy

Okay. Just on case you’re like us, and couldn’t focus on “bury the dead” before getting Monty Python and the Holy Grail out of your system, we’re going to go ahead and give you a moment to do that.

No, really. Go ahead.


That’s right. You remember. Bring out yer dead…Honestly, keep going. We’ll wait…He’s says he’s not dead. Yes, he is…We’re serious. Get through it. It’ll make this whole blog easier…I’m getting better…BONK!

And Bob’s your uncle.

Yes. We know. Hugely disrespectful when you look at it closely but don’t try telling us nobody out there was thinking about it—especially the guys.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can get down to business.

Bury the Dead – You read that work of mercy right.

Bury the dead. Not exactly one of the corporal works of mercy you’d start a group for at the parish. Is it? “Okay, everybody. We’ve got four funerals at the parish this week. Let’s figure out who’s going where. And does anybody have an extra shovel for Ruth? She broke the handle on hers last week.”

But like so many simple imperatives in the life of the Church, “bury the dead” means a lot more than what it says on the surface.

That’s not to say there isn’t a practical aspect involved. The mortal remains of a human being should be treated with the utmost respect and dignity. In our Catholic tradition, that means laying a person to rest in a place of consecration. And yes, that can be in the form of ashes, if those ashes are treated in a way that assumes the eventual resurrection of the dead we acknowledge every Sunday at Mass.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 2300).

What does that mean for the Year of Mercy?

There probably isn’t much you can do to help people with the physical logistics of this particular corporal work. Although, you might check with your pastor to see if there’s a family for whom burial costs are a particular burden. Few things feel better than performing an anonymous act of charity for someone in need.

Aside from that, there is a lot more you can do, very simple things, to put this corporal work of mercy into action. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Check your parish bulletin for the names of the recently deceased and make a point of praying for them.
  • If you can, arrange your schedule so that you can attend some of the funeral masses at your parish, whether or not you know the deceased.
  • Take notice of just how many times you pass cemeteries and funeral homes in the course of a week; send up a prayer for the departed souls of those places.

St. Sebastian caring for plague victims and burying the dead

You can’t bury grief.

Long after the deceased have been laid to rest, they remain very much alive in the hearts and minds of their loved ones. Helping those people reeling in the wake of death is very much a part of this corporal work of mercy.

The goal isn’t to help the bereaved forget the people they have lost, but rather to help them remember that they aren’t lost at all, that these words prayed for the departed are true: “Lord, for Your faithful people life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.”

There are several ways to be of help, depending on how well you know someone who is dealing with the death of a loved one. Here are just a couple:

  • Ask people to share some memories of the departed; talking about joys we remember and miss can be a great relief. It’s okay to remember. And remembering doesn’t hurt forever, especially when someone is there to help us through the initial pain.
  • Arrange for Masses to be said for the departed; sending a “Mass Card” to a grieving family may sound old-fashioned, but it remains a great comfort.

“Bring out yer dead” was a joke. “Bury the dead” is far from it. While it’s a corporal work of mercy that sounds a bit odd, it may be one of the most natural among them.

We want to hear from you!

Do you have any other tips for carrying out this rather difficult work of mercy?

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