Christianity teaches that human beings have an eternal soul, and the final disposition of that soul is tied directly to how a person lives. For Catholics, that includes the final moments of life. Death and what comes after are tied intimately to the sacraments of the Church, especially the sacraments of penance or confession, the Eucharist and the anointing of the sick.
According to Catholic belief, life doesn't end when the body dies. Catholics see death as a temporary separation of the body and the soul. The soul stands before Christ to be judged. Those that rejected Christ in life go to hell. Those who accepted the gospel and followed the teachings of the Catholic Church go to heaven. Those Christians who die with unconfessed sin or with the hurt caused by sin go to a place where the soul is purged and healed, known as purgatory.
Life and Death
How a Catholic lives life directly impacts how that Catholic faces death. Catholics believe life and death are intertwined. Catholics believe death is not to be feared, but also recognize that the dying process creates natural anxiety. How a Catholic faces death when the time comes makes a difference for their own well-being and also for the loved ones around them who offer support and compassion. Catholics see life and death as ways we demonstrate and experience their love of God and their neighbors.
The Catholic sacrament of Penance, often called "confession," is a process in which Catholics confess sins and receive absolutions. Penance involves several components such as sorrow for the sin, confessing the sin to God, acts of penance to demonstrate true repentance and absolution or forgiveness. It is traditional for a dying Catholic to be given the sacrament of penance so that he has no unconfessed sins left.
Ideally, a priest visits a Catholic at or near the time of death. There is a series of specific events that help the Catholic make the transition to the afterlife. First comes the sacrament of Penance, where the Catholic confesses sins and receives absolution. Next, the priest administers the sacrament of Holy Eucharist, or communion. Communion helps the Catholic prepare to for judgement by God. This is followed by the sacrament of Extreme Unction, of the anointing of the sick. Anointing of the sick offers health to the soul. Finally, the priest offers the Apostolic benediction or "last blessing" as a prayer for the dying person's soul.
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