At first glance, death seems to be the consequence of illness, or that of an accident, or of unavoidable old age. Yet, the real cause of death is not biological but spiritual. What does the Catholic Church say about death, and in particular the Second Vatican Council? Milestones by Rev. Fr. Don Martin Panhard.
The mystery of death in regard to the Second Vatican Council
In its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the modern world (Gaudium et spes), the Second Vatican Council tackled the topic of death from the perspective of the mystery (N°18). Obviously, due to its very nature, death is a mystery. It is a passage to the “after-life”,and represents a leap in the alien “world”. yet, the mystery we are talking about is not so much that of death but that of the death of the human being as such. Man remains a mystery to himself and the experience of dying does reveal it to him. “It is in the face of death that the riddle of human existence grows most acute.”
Death is the consequence of sin
At first glance, death seems to be the consequence of illness, or that of an accident, or of unavoidable old age. Yet, the real cause of death is not a biological but spiritual. Referring to the Scriptures, the Council recalls “that bodily death from which man would have been immune had he not sinned”. According to our faith, the inherent reason of death is a spiritual one; hence, it is from a spiritual standpoint that we ought to prepare and address it.
The meaning of Christian death
What ever the fate of our body, it remains that “God has called man and still calls him so that with his entire being he might be joined to Him in an endless sharing of a divine life beyond all corruption.” The Good News we want to witness to is that death itself is no more a hurdle in the project of God. On the contrary, it becomes the ultimate stage whereby the passage (return) towards Life takes place. To such an extend that the Catholic Church Catechism ventures to affirm (N°1010): “Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning”.
The grace of a good death in the Second Vatican Council
Moreover, human beings “rebels against death”. Even the “prolongation of biological life is unable to satisfy that desire for higher life which is inescapably lodged in his breast.” Therefore one can approach death in hope and, better still, in faith: the death we undergo will one day be vanquished. “Christ won this victory when He rose to life, for by His death He freed man from death.” Furthermore, “(…) faith provides the answer to his anxiety about what the future holds for him. At the same time faith gives him the power to be united in Christ with his loved ones who have already been snatched away by death; faith arouses the hope that they have found true life with God.”
Don Martin Panhard, Chemin in C.E. 258 –