Ministry to the Dying, Dead, and Bereaved
Part 2 History

Chapter f21 The Apostolic Period [0-399 CE]

Secular History

Church History

Ministry to the Dead and Bereaved

Secular History

1.  "Tears" are a kind of "sacrament" of grief.  In ancient times tears were holy and collected in a small tear vial or lachrymatory.  (The picture [used with owner's permission] is of a 2000 year old lachrymatory that was being sold on e-bay.)

2.  Families cared for their dead.  They washed and anointed the body in preparation for burial.   In hot and dry climates, burial was usually immediately after death, or soon after death.

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Church History

1.  See:  Chapter d22 Origins of Christian Liturgy

2.  "Most Jews at the time of Jesus did not believe in life after death, so when the New Testament talks about salvation it is unlikely that it means going to heaven.  In fact, soteria (the Greek word that is usually translated as salvation) does not appear in Matthew and Mark at all, but only in Luke -- the gospel writer who is traditionally pictured as a physician --  as well as in Acts of the Apostles.  In these places, soteria can easily be translated as 'well being' in the sense of being well in the here and now." (Martos, Sacraments, p. 188.)

3.  Christianity did not begin as a "religion of power" and we did not have grand public ceremonies and books of liturgical formulas until during and after the Constantine era. 

4.  During its early years, Christianity was a religion of practical action, not doctrine.  (For example, think of the things Jesus said we had to believe and the things Jesus said we had to do -- Love one another; the greatest commandment...; I was hungry and you gave me food, etc.  There was no thousand page catechism, no seven volume Summa, and no twenty volume Catholic Encyclopedia of things Christians "believed".)

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Ministry to the Dead and Bereaved

The Resurrection of Jesus changes everything!   We are "in Christ" by our Baptism-Confirmation-Eucharist.  As Jesus rose from the dead, we will rise from the dead.  This shift in understanding of the meaning of human existence brought about by the mystery of the Incarnation / Resurrection separates us from Jews, Muslims, and indeed from every other religion!  It is this mystery which makes our view of death different from all other religious (and non-religious) people.

The theological starting point for understanding the mystery of death shifts from Adam to Christ.  Saint Paul teaches/preaches this shift in viewpoint -- whatever Adam did, what Christ did is the determinative event.  [However, not everyone was convinced.  Some, even some Christians, continue to begin their reflection on the mystery of death with "Adam" rather than beginning with Jesus.] 

Burying the dead is an act of faith and belief in the resurrection.  Belief in the resurrection sets the tone for Christians' funeral rites, prayers, and customs.

At first, there were no "distinctive" Christian burial customs.   In desert climates (e.g. Israel) the dead are buried immediately as the body would quickly start to decompose in the heat.  As Christianity moves to Rome, Roman customs are assimilated and continued and are sometimes "baptized" -- For example, the Eucharist becomes the Christian "funeral meal" with the deceased.

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 08/15/14.  Your comments on this site are welcome at trichstatter@franciscan.org