Death is one of the most important events in the Christian religion, as it is the end of a person's earthly life and the beginning of eternal life in heaven, in the presence of God. According to Christianity, each person possesses a soul that leaves a person's body at death and goes to an afterlife in heaven or hell. Catholics also believe in the existence of a middle state between heaven and hell called purgatory. Heaven is believed to be a gift from God to those who have lived a righteous life. There are several religious practices that take place before and after the death of a Christian to prepare the soul for the afterlife and honor the deceased's religious life.
Last rites, also known as Anointing of the Sick, is the act of praying over and anointing a seriously ill or dying Catholic. Typically, the Lord's Prayer or Psalm 50 is recited, but other Scriptures that deal with death are also used. For Protestant Christians, it is customary for a pastor to visit the ill or dying person to pray and recite Scripture. The purpose of praying over a Protestant or Catholic who is near death is to offer the opportunity to repent of sins and prepare the dying person for the afterlife in heaven.
Since Christians believe that a soul goes either to heaven or hell, a great amount of importance is placed on repenting sins, maintaining faith in God and practicing good conduct. These are the actions that most Christian denominations believe are necessary for a person to receive God's gift of eternal life in heaven. The souls of those who do not repent sins and do not have faith in God go to hell, a place where souls suffer the tortuous consequences of living a life of sin. However, most Christians believe that it is possible for a dying person to accept Jesus, be baptized and repent sins shortly before death. In that event, Christians believe the person will be granted the afterlife in heaven.
Funeral services for Christians are typically held in the church they were affiliated with, and the focus of the service is usually on their religious life. During most Christian funerals, there is a sermon, prayer, reading of Scripture and singing hymns. It is also common for a eulogy or funeral resolution to be read that details the religious life of the deceased. A wake is sometimes held prior to the start of a funeral service. This is a time when close family members come together to view the body and offer support to one another in their time of loss.
Christians are typically buried in consecrated ground, which is an area that has been blessed or a cemetery where other Christians are buried. In the past, Christians were encouraged not to be cremated but to imitate Jesus' burial in the tomb. However, most Christian denominations now accept cremation as an option. A burial typically involves a graveside service where family members are present for a sermon or Scripture reading led by a pastor. This service is usually held in addition to the funeral service inside a church.
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images