Death, says Saint Paul, is the last enemy.
The seventh corporal work of mercy isn’t drawn from Jesus’ preaching on the day of judgement, but comes to us from the Jewish tradition, and from the respect and care for the body which the Church teaches us will be raised up on the last day.
The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honours the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit. [CCC2300]
So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and YHWH buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. [ESV Deuteronomy 34v5-6]
Psalm 79 laments the deaths of soldiers who were lost defending Jerusalem:
They have poured out their blood like water
all around Jerusalem,
and there was no one to bury them.
To bury the dead is a god-like act. To be left unburied the final mark of desolation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us:
The Christian meaning of death is revealed in the light of the Paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ in whom resides our only hope. The Christian who dies in Christ Jesus is “away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 
The Christian funeral is a liturgical celebration of the Church. The ministry of the Church in this instance aims at expressing efficacious communion with the deceased, at the participation in that communion of the community gathered for the funeral, and at the proclamation of eternal life to the community. 
- In the funeral and especially in the requiem mass, we accompany the person who has died in prayer, giving thanks for their life, and seeking mercy and peace for them with God.
- We pray also for those who mourn, that they may be comforted; and we gather as a community with the family and friends of the person who has died, to support them in their sorrow and loss.
- And we proclaim our hope in God’s mercy, in eternal life and the hope of the resurrection, when all things will be restored in Christ, and God will be all in all.
TOWARDS PRACTICAL ACTION
There probably isn’t much you can do to help people with the practical aspects of burying the dead. Although, a funeral these days may cost more than many families can afford, so you might check with your parish priest to see if there’s a family for whom burial costs are a particular burden. Few things feel better than performing an anonymous act of charity for someone in need.
Perhaps your parish might set up a fund to help people who need it with the cost of a funeral?
Some help with funeral costs may be available from central of local government:
The Nottingham Funeral is available to all residents of the City of Nottingham, regardless of culture or belief.
The scheme is also available to former city residents, who within a period of three years before death, took up residence outside the City boundary to receive full time care. The cost of the scheme is from £1.699.00.
All unavoidable disbursements are included, except the cost of Rights of Burial in a new grave.
Aside from that, there are some very simple things that can be done to put this corporal work of mercy into action:
- Check your parish bulletin for the names of the recently deceased and make a point of praying for them.
- If you can, see if you can make time to attend some of the funeral masses at your parish, whether or not you know the deceased.
- Many of the very old die with no-one close left to pray for them, or offer masses for them: this is a work of mercy that any of us can do.
- Speak to the bereaved family, say how sorry you are for their loss; keep in touch with them, and make sure they know they are not forgotten by the parish community.
A GOOD DEATH
There are some people who are afraid of death, and many more are afraid of dying, of a drawn-out experience of pain and loss leading to darkness.
It doesn’t have to be like that. Good palliative care, and a supportive environment, can make the end of life a time of healing and hope. Facing death, people may want to seek forgiveness or forgive wrongs, resolve old quarrels, be reconciled to God, spend quiet time with friends and family, or just talk through their lives to a sympathetic listener.
The Catechism reminds us that: the dying should be given attention and care to help them live their last moments in dignity and peace. They will be helped by the prayer of their relatives, who must see to it that the sick receive at the proper time the sacraments that prepare them to meet the living God. 
Chaplains in hospitals and hospices are skilled at walking with the dying. It is important to ask to be put in touch with the chaplaincy team if you, or someone you care for, is admitted to hospital with a life-threatening or terminal condition. Don’t leave it too late!
You can help elderly friends or relatives by being willing to take on the role of decision-maker should they become incapable of making decisions for themselves, perhaps about personal care, or about financial matters.
Learn more about the Mental Capacity Act and how to safeguard your own future, or help others in this way, in The Mental Capacity Act and Living Wills, a publication of the Bishops’ Conference:
The Bishops’ Conference has also published:
Spiritual Care of the Dying Person – 2010
A practical guide to assist front-line healthcare staff in identifying spiritual need in their patients and to feel confident in their ability to provide it – 2010
These may also be downloaded from the Publications section of the above website.
pour into us the spirit of your love,
that in the hour of our death
we may be worthy to vanquish the enemy
and receive the heavenly crown. Amen.
The above article is downloadable:
To Bury the Dead – PDF
To Bury the Dead – Word