Catholicism: Belief about death
Catholics see death as a passage from this life to the new, everlasting life promised by Christ. The soul of the deceased goes on to the afterlife, which includes Purgatory as well as Heaven and Hell. According to Catholic belief, the bodies of the dead will be resurrected at the end of time.
The Catholic funeral service is called the Mass of the Resurrection. During it, Jesus Christ’s life is remembered and related to that of the deceased. Eulogies are not allowed during the funeral mass, but may be delivered at a wake or other non-religious ceremony. There is also a final graveside farewell, and additional traditions depending on the region. The Church encourages Catholics to be buried in Catholic cemeteries. In 1963, the Vatican lifted the ban on cremation for Catholics. However, the cremains must be interred, not scattered or kept at home.
The community and the church support mourners through the funeral mass and through non-religious services like wakes.
Memorial Art: Gravestones
Mary: Mother of Jesus.
- Cross: Probably the most famous symbol of Catholic religious art, the cross figures as a symbol of Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection in order to restore the broken relationship between a loving God and His fallen creation. Some Catholic crosses leave Christ’s body hanging on the cross. Crosses such as these are known as crucifixes. With regard to its use on headstones, grave markers, and memorials, the cross most likely symbolizes that the deceased was a Christian, as well as his or her hope of new life in heaven.
- Fish: Another recognizable Catholic symbol, the fish was how early Christians identified one another during centuries of intense Roman persecution. Some fish might also include five Greek letters, which translate to “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” On headstones, grave markers, and memorials, the fish most likely functions to make a statement about the deceased’s beliefs.
- Dove: Though less known, the dove plays an important role in Catholic religious art, as it symbolizes the Holy Spirit. When used on headstones, grave markers, and memorials, however, the dove typically represents both peace and grace.
Alpha and Omega: The first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, the Alpha and the Omega symbolize that Christ is “the first and the last.” This means that He was present at creation and that He will be present at the end of time. On headstones, grave markers, and memorials, the Alpha and the Omega usually symbolize the deceased’s belief in Christ’s presence with him or her, even in death