Maynooth College: Essays on dying and death

November 17, 2022 in Featured News, News

Maynooth College Reflects on Facing Life’s End: Perspectives on Dying and Death » is the latest book by Messenger Publications. It was launched by Alan Burke, Head of Mission at Bons Secours Hospital, Dublin, and Dr Jessie Rogers, Dean of the Faculty of Theology, St Patrick’s Pontifical University, in Renehan Hall, St Patrick’s College Maynooth, on Wednesday 16 November 2022. The event included a guest lecture by Dr Colmán Ó Clabaigh OSB, monk of Glenstal Abbey, entitled ‘Momento Mori: Preparing for Death in Medieval Ireland’.

The book is a new volume of essays that adopts a multi-faceted approach to questions around dying and death. Featuring contributions from those working within the areas of palliative care, healthcare chaplaincy, philosophy, and theology, it is a testament to the many ways in which people bear witness to the ‘unique and unrepeatable value’ (Samaritanus Bonus) of those they have loved who have gone before them.

Thomas G. Casey SJ reflects on the body and soul in an essay ‘From Death to Eternal Happiness’. He writes:

“The life of the body comes to a temporary end at death, while the life of the soul continues. Of course, although body and soul are separated at death, which is the reason that human life ceases, Christians believe that body and soul will be reunited in the world to come.

The doctrine of the resurrection of the body gives grounds for tremendous hope, since it emphasises the value of the body and promises that all of human existence will be renewed and transformed.”

Among the topics covered are: the transformative power of palliative care; spiritual care at the end of life; a philosophical perspective on dying, death, and dignity; prudential judgment in end-of-life decision making; perinatal death; compassionate accompaniment of the bereaved; honoring the sacred story of the dying; reflecting on the Order of Christian Funerals; scriptural perspectives on mortality; the significance of music in the funeral liturgy; how the afterlife has been imagined within the Christian tradition; and the ‘liturgy’ of the Irish wake. 

Referring to the meaning of the word ‘wake’, Bairbre Cahill writes:

“One idea is that there were illnesses that could render a person insensate to the point where they appeared to be dead. Family members would keep watch over the body for at least twenty-four hours lest the dead should awake.

Another idea is simply that as a mark of respect the one who had died would not be left alone but would be accompanied by a few hardy souls through the hours of darkness for two nights until the funeral. It is a sign of deep love and respect.”

The book brings together healthcare professionals, pastoral care professionals, philosophers, and theologians to discuss both theoretical and practical aspects to the experience of dying and death. It will be of interest to those who work in full-time ministry; pastoral care; palliative care; chaplaincy; health care professionals; those involved in bereavement support groups and is an accessible resource for those who have a general interest in religion, spirituality, or who wish to reflect more deeply on these significant issues.  

Anne Francis, who reflects on the power of story in accompanying people towards the end of life, says:

“The time of knowingly moving towards death is a very particular moment for story. Here people may have a perspective they have never had before. It can be a time to ask what it has all been about.

This is not merely the recounting of facts from past experiences; it is the way these take their true place as part of our deep story. This may mean allowing them in retrospect to be as significant as they are to us.”

Maynooth College Reflects on Facing Life’s End: Perspectives on Dying and Death is edited by Jeremy Corley, Aoife McGrath, Neil Xavier O’Donoghue and Salvador Ryan, with a foreword by Archbishop Dermot Farrell. It is published in Ireland and the UK by Messenger publications and is priced at €14.95/£12.95.