Question 148:

Under Christianity, are the dead also washed and wrapped in linen cloth?


Answer: For the Christian the day of death inaugurates ….the fulfilment of his new birth began at Baptism, the definitive conformity to the image of the Son conferred by the anointment of the Holy Spirit, and the participation in the feat of the Kingdom which was anticipated in the Eucharist – even if final purifications are still necessary for him in order to be clothed with the nuptial garment. [CCC 1682]

The Church, who as Mother, has borne the Christian sacramentally in her womb during his earthly pilgrimage, accompanies him at his journeys end, in order to surrender him into the Fathers hands. She offers to the Father, in Christ, the child of his grace, and she commits to the earth, in hope, the seed of the body that will rise in glory (1 Cor 15:42-44). This offering is fully celebrated in the Eucharistic sacrifice; the blessings before and after the Mass are sacramentals. (CCC 1683]

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 (cf. Tob 1:16-18); it honours the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit. [CCC 2300)

Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious. The Church permits cremation, provided that is does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body. [CCC 2301]

Until 1964 cremation was prohibited for Catholics according to canon law. The prohibition was founded less on dogmatic grounds and was more a counter reaction to certain groups in which cremation was propagated as a denial of faith and the resurrection. Today cremation is allowed for Catholics, if this is not intended to expressly deny the Christian faith.

Christians decorate the graves of their dead as sign of remembrance and love. By blessing the graves on the feast days All Saints and All Souls communities show their attachment to the dead in a particular way. Death and grief are seen in the light of Jesus message of resurrection; together the Christian communities acknowledge their hope in the resurrection.

Christians also deeply honour the graveyard. It is Gods field where the bodies of the faithful, who in this life were the temple of the Holy Spirit, are buried. The layout and the environment of the graveyard should testify to the Christian belief in the Resurrection. Katholischer Erwachsenen Katechismus (Catholic Adult Catechism) Band 2, Leben aus dem Glauben, p. 313f.)


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