We know earthly death is not the end, but rather thedoor through which we must pass to gain eternal life. Because of our belief and
hope in the Resurrection, we can face death not with fear, but with
preparation. Although certainly not comprehensive, the following considerations
are provided as starting points for understanding and preparing for this
transition, whether it is imminent or not.
and at the Hour of our Death1
We prepare for eternal life by choosing to love and
follow God now, in our daily lives and decisions. For example, through prayer
and regular reception of the sacraments, especially Confession and the
Eucharist, we obtain grace to live in ever-deeper communion with God and with
one another in lives of faith, charity, and justice.2 We ask for Our Blessed
Mother's help now, and we entrust ourselves to her further as we "surrender 'the hour of our death' wholly to her care."3
Our journey with Christ naturally includes equipping our
consciences to make morally good judgments and acting accordingly.4 Learning about the dignity
of human life and the indispensable respect for it,5 as well as applicable
principles for medical care, is particularly important in preparing for our
Some bishops offer guides applying moral principles to
local legal options.6
Parish and online resources are also widely available for careful and prayerful
study, and the Ethical and Religious
Directives from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops give
direction for health care services to those who are seriously ill or dying.7
Note on General Principles
No summary can substitute for thorough catechesis, but
some general principles are clear. We are entrusted by God with the gift of
life, and in response, we care for our lives and health in obedience and
gratitude to our Creator.
This obliges us to make use of appropriate, effective
medical care. However, even effective treatments may at times impose such a
great burden that we, in good conscience, may forgo or discontinue them. This
applies even to life-sustaining treatments. Of course, nothing should be done
or deliberately omitted to hasten death.8
The Church affirms the inviolable dignity of every
person, regardless of the duration or extent of the person's incapacity or
dependency. Nothing diminishes the unchangeable dignity and sanctity of a
person's life, or the obligation to protect and care for it. In principle,
assisted feeding and hydration should be provided unless it cannot sustain life
or is unduly burdensome to the patient, or if death is imminent whether it is
provided or not.
Moreover, no one should choose suicide, nor counsel or
assist another to take his or her own life.
Judging the effect and burden of treatments can be
difficult, especially as death draws near. To understand health facts and treatment
options, we need professional medical advice. To understand Catholic moral
teaching, we need to consult Church teaching and those who can faithfully
with Loved Ones
After informing our consciences, we need to inform our
families. If we are unable to make decisions, they most often have legal
authority to make surrogate decisions on our behalf. Or we may designate a
health care agent by a durable power of attorney.
Though it is often helpful to also have written,
signed documentation, no living will "check box" can ever replace clear
conversations about our faith-guided principles. The best option is to choose
an agent who will make medical decisions on our behalf in accord with our
Catholic faith and Church teaching.
We should also inform family of our pastoral care
preferences, and make clear that after death, we desire prayer, funeral rites,
and Christian burial.9
before and after Death10
Those who are sick should not be alone, as multiple
popes have reminded us in messages for the annual World Day of the Sick. Patients
who have serious or life-threatening illnesses, as well as their families, can
be provided with physical, psychological, and spiritual care through team-based
palliative care.11 Hospice care can provide similar integrated care for those nearing death and
for their families.
Pastoral care is integral to both palliative and
hospice care, and includes making available the Eucharist, Confession,
Anointing of the Sick, and Viaticum.12 It also includes supportive
prayer13 and support for decision
makers. It may be helpful to familiarize ourselves with local services
available in preparation for our own passing or that of loved ones.
Even after death, accompaniment continues. Our prayers
can help those who are being purified in Purgatory, so it is a spiritual work
of mercy to pray for those who have died.14
in the Resurrection
Those who die in God's grace and friendship live
forever with Christ. Heaven is not an abstract idea, but a true and lasting
relationship with God that is beyond all earthly description and understanding.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead and everlasting life by preparing
now, in hope, for our passage from this life into eternal life.
We need not fear. Christ is with us.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., 2012 ff.
 See Pope Francis, General Audience,
27 November 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana), https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20131127_udienza-generale.html.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2677.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1776 ff. United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (Washington, D.C.:
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2006), pp. 314-315.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1701 ff., 2258 ff.
 Many state conferences of Catholic
bishops have published materials which may help you with decisions about
advance directives. To find these and other resources, contact your local
diocesan Respect Life office. A directory is available at www.usccb.org/about/pro-life-activities/diocesan-pro-life-offices.cfm.
 Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,
5th ed, (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops, 2009), http://www.usccb.org/about/doctrine/ethical-and-religious-directives/. (See especially Part 5.)
 See Pope John Paul II, Evangelium vitae, (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995), 15.
 A summary is found here: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/bereavement-and-funerals/overview-of-catholic-funeral-rites.cfm.
 Pope Francis uses the term "accompaniment"
often; see its many occurrences in Evangelii
 Pope Francis, "Address of His
Holiness Pope Francis to Participants in the Plenary of the Pontifical Academy
for Life" (Libreria Editrice
Vaticana, 2015), https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/march/documents/papa-francesco_20150305_pontificia-accademia-vita.html.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1499–1532. See also Pope Benedict
XVI, "Message of the Holy Father on the Occasion of the Twentieth World Day of
the Sick" (Libreria Editrice
Vaticana, 2012), https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/messages/sick/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20111120_world-day-of-the-sick-2012.html.
 See for example these prayers at
the time of dying and death: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/bereavement-and-funerals/prayers-for-death-and-dying.cfm.
 Pope Francis, General Audience, 30
November 2016, (Libreria Editrice Vaticana), https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2016/documents/papa-francesco_20161130_udienza-generale.html
Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition © 2000 LEV-USCCB.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2017, United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved.