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Rituals and Beliefs on Life after Death Essay Sample

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Rituals and Beliefs on Life after Death Essay Sample

Eternal life spent in Heaven or hell, these are the two destinations that Christians believe their soul would reside after spending their lifetime here on Earth. This is based on the belief that if their soul is found worthy on Judgment Day they would spend life eternity in perpetual bliss in Heaven. But if they have been a sinner in their lifetime, they would scorch in the eternal flames of Hell.

  Life after death has always been the core of the Christian beliefs. Christian teachings, belief and rituals have been centered on attaining Heaven and being one with God.

Brief History

            2000 years ago, Christianity became popular in Israel. During this time, Israel, or Judea as then known, was comprised mostly of Jews practicing Judaism (“History Of Christianity  – Fact Based Faith “, 2007). A religious teacher named Jesus was then roaming the countryside and spreading his revolutionary teachings. Along with his disciples, he taught the people about God and the New Covenant.

            The core of his teachings is the salvation of Man from Sin. Through Jesus, man will be saved and will again be with God in Heaven. His disciples witnessed every miracle Jesus has done. They became eventually the core group that would spread His teachings.

            Religious leaders have become threatened by Jesus’ growing popularity and have falsely accused Him.  He was tried under Roman law. Jesus died in the cross, which was by then a punishment given to criminals but rose again after three days thus fulfilling the prophecy of the Messiah (“History Of Christianity  – Fact Based Faith “, 2007).

            Since then pocket groups of Christian began to emerge. Since they were hunted down by Roman soldiers, they have always been on the run and persecuted. But due to the efforts of Jesus’ disciple, the Christian Church grew and is today the largest religious sect in the world.

Christian Beliefs and Rituals

            The core of the Christian belief is the evident faith in one God. He is the creator of everything and Man was created in His image and likeness. He is the one God who is embodied in three personas. The belief in the Holy Trinity is also prevalent in Christian teachings and rituals (Hedrick) .

Christians believe that God is represented as three different persons – the Father, The Son or Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. This belief is summed up in the Apostle’s Creed prayer that every Christian is thought. In the creed, Christians signify their belief in all three personalities of the One God.

God the Father is depicted as the creator of the universe, He who created man in His image and likeness. Christ, on the other hand is depicted as the Son. Jesus Christ saved mankind from sin by dying on the cross and was resurrected after three days. His role was the fulfillment of the prophecies given out in the old scriptures foretold by prophets of the Old Testaments.   The Holy Spirit is termed as the unity of all Christians. This is the embodiment of the Christian Community and its  love for one another (Hedrick).

            Christians in general believe in the existence of Heaven and Hell. It is where a person’s soul will go after the physical body has died and their soul has passed the Final Judgment (Robinson, 2007). To be in Heaven is to be in the presence of God and all his Angels. It is believe to be a state of perpetual bliss and happiness. To be in Hell, on the other hand, is to be eternally punished for the sins committed while the person is still alive in this world.

There is also a belief about Purgatory, which is a temporary place where the soul of those who are not yet worthy of Heaven but is still under the grace of God resides. Here they spent their time to cleanse their soul in order to be worthy of Heaven. This is a temporary stop, providing the soul a chance to rectify the effect of sin and proceed to Heaven. Though life in Purgatory is depicted to be full of trials and pain as atonement for their sins.

Christian Practices and Rituals

            Christian tradition gives death of a Christian member sacred gestures and rituals. Most of the common practice is to give honor to the departed member and give comfort to the bereaved. The community rejoices in the belief that the departed with once again unite with God in Heaven.

            Rituals during funerals consist of three rituals and gestures namely: Wake or Vigil Service, Funeral Mass and Rite of Committal or Burial (“The Order of Christian Funerals”, 2007).

            During the Vigil or Wake there are slight differences as to the Vigil time. The difference lies in the location since there are places that Vigil for the departed would last for a week up to nine days. During Vigil friends and family members offer prayers for the soul of the departed. This is in the hope that the soul of the departed would immediately rejoin God in Heaven. Prayers are offered to guide the departed soul to ease the transition from life to after life. Prayers and novenas are also offered to saints and departed loved ones to intercede to God to grant forgiveness and embrace the soul of the newly departed.

            Funeral Mass is held in the Church. This is the pinnacle of the funeral service since it is during these occasions that the community is reminded of Death and their life as a Christian. Attainment of Heaven is dependent on the quality of Christian life that the faithful have lived.

            And finally the Rite of Committal or Burial, this is done after the Liturgy of Mass. The burial ground is consecrated and prayers are offered for the soul of the departed by friends and love ones. There is no restriction as to the burial ground as long as it is consecrated first before burial of the deceased Christian.

            Christians believe that the body is sacred since it is the Temple of the Soul while on earth. It was created from the earth and will return to the earth when the body dies. The accepted method for the interment of the body is only through burial or cremation (“The Order of Christian Funerals”, 2007) .

Mummification and Ancient Egyptian beliefs

            Ancient Egyptian belief has a legend about Osiris. How he was killed and dismembered by his brother Seth. His wife Isis patched him back together. His son Horus revived him through the Ceremony of Opening of the Mouth. Afterwards Osiris was known as the king of the Underworld.

            Pharaohs believed that they could become stars and join Ra, the sun god, in his journey across the sky or Osiris in his fields. Common people can also join the work in the bountiful fields of Osiris provided they are represented in the tombs of the Pharaohs.

Ancient Egyptians believed that it is necessary for one to have passed the Final Judgment and a recognizable body that the person can return to after the Ceremony of Opening of the Mouth. Thus the need to mummify the deceased body. Ancient Egyptians believed that before the performance of the ceremony, the dead cannot see, hear or speak. After the ceremony, the deceased could speak, see, eat and do other things in the afterlife (“Egyptian Mummification “, 2000).

They believed in the presence of the ka and the ba in each person’s soul. The mummified body is necessary for the survival of both. The ka, is the person’s double remained with the deceased body while the ba, which is a human with a head of a bird, has freedom to leave the tomb during daytime but needs to return during night. Thus ancient Egyptians perfected the methods of mummification to ensure the continued existence of their departed in the after life (“Egyptian Mummification “, 2000).

Christianity compared with other religions

             To appreciate the Christian belief regarding Life after death it is also good to know the beliefs that other religions have regarding the topic.

            Hinduism believes in a three-in-one god composed of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the destroyer. The ultimate goal of a practitioner of Hinduism is to attain nirvana or the state of nothingness. Unless Nirvana is attained in their lifetime, their soul will be reincarnated and their next life would depend on the deeds they have done for the lifetime. They would be reincarnated in a lower or higher caste depending on their karma (Lutterloh, 2005).

            Buddhism is said to have originated from Hinduism and is centered on the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path. The Four Noble Truths are there is pain and suffering, desires causes suffering, suffering ceases when desire is gone and desire can be eliminated when you follow the Eight-fold Path. The way to reach Nirvana is when pain and suffering is gone (Lutterloh, 2005).

            Confucianism originated in China which was preached by Confucius. He preached of ethical standards that a person can follow. It does not however tackle topics like after life or deities and gods. Taoism, which also originated in China, preached about harmony with the universe and with one’s self. Utilizing Yin and Yang a person strives to be one with the Tao (Lutterloh, 2005).

            Christianity on the other hand preaches about glorifying God in everyday situations, to be fruitful and multiply in preaching the gospel. The Christian view of the afterlife is that Heaven is attainable when one accepts Christ. When a person has committed a sin and has repented and retracted from their evil ways they are still eligible for Heaven.

            The main difference of Christianity is in the view of the after life. Christian belief dictates that as long as one accepts Christ and is repentant of the sins committed he or she will surely go to Heaven and be eternally happy. For Christianity, the belief that the person only has one life to live, unlike other religions believing in reincarnation, motivates the faithful to embrace in this lifetime the teachings of the Church and accept Christ in their lives (Lutterloh, 2005).

            One big difference also is the place in the afterlife. Most other religions offer nothingness or being one with the universe unlike Christianity that offers a place of eternal happiness and bliss for those found worthy. But for those souls that are corrupted by sin, their place is in the fiery depths of Hell. Here their soul is burned for all eternity as punishment for the sins they have committed during their lifetime.

            Reincarnation though depicted in Christ’s life after dying in the cross still differed from the other reincarnation preaching of other religions. With Christianity, here reincarnation was done after three days and with Christ being brought back to life as Christ the living God. With other religions reincarnation can be a punishment or reward depending on the quality of life lived.

Attainment of Heaven

            Going to Heaven is one of the motivating reasons why people select Christianity as their religion. Christianity offers a simple way of attaining eternal life. Have faith in the Catholic Church and accept Christ and his teachings. Eventually Heaven is attainable.

One way is through the Sacraments.  The Sacraments, which was instituted by Christ and emulated by his Disciples, is one perceptible way of receiving grace and expression of faith  The Sacraments are designed to assist the individual in their spiritual growth and attainment of divine salvation.

            The Church, on the other hand has ratified the Sacraments which are indicative of receiving Grace and is also one of the visible signs that the faithful is properly guided in their journey towards Heaven in the afterlife. The Sacraments are viewed to be necessary for the individual’s salvation.  The number of Sacraments for the Roman Catholic Church was set to seven (Piggin)

            Three of the seven sacraments pertain to initiation to the Christian tenets and beliefs. Namely they are Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.

            Baptism is the ritual cleansing of the person from original sin or from all personal sin if he or she sincerely repents. Though it is accepted that Baptism is not limited to Sacramental water alone, there are also other forms of Baptism like Baptism of Blood and Baptism of Desire (Piggin).

            Baptism is mandatory since it is believed that unless Baptized in the Church a person may not enter Heaven. Baptism is also the start for the individual to be formally inducted in the Church. This is the ceremony done to signify the cleansing of the soul and accepting Christ and his teachings. This is the initial requirement for the Christian to attain Heaven.

            Confirmation is the Sacrament that is said to manifest the Gift of the Spirit.  It is the confirmation of the individual of the gifts received during Baptism. Faith is strengthened during Confirmation. Like Baptism, Confirmation may be received only once. In some location, the sacrament is given immediately after Baptism but most commonly it is administered during the early adulthood of the individual when they can better understand the significance of the Gifts bestowed by the Spirit (Piggin).

            The Third Sacrament is the Eucharist or Communion. This is the Sacrament wherein the individual first partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. With this Holy Communion, wheaten bread which represents the Flesh of Christ and wine which represents the Blood of Christ undergoes transubstantiation. These sacrifices are offered for the sins of both the living and the dead (Piggin).

            There are two Sacraments that deal with healing. This is not a physical healing but spiritual type. With Christianity, sinners are given the opportunity to repent and retract from their sinful ways. According to written passages in the Bible, even a criminal who was crucified along with Christ was able to enter Heaven simply with the admission of his sins and asking God for forgiveness.

            Reconciliation is the sacrament commonly known as Sacrament of Penance. Penance includes confession, contrition and absolution provided by a priest. Forgiveness is given by God. Due to the Sacrament of Penance, the repentant is given the chance to bridge the gap resulting from committing of sin. The sacrament has several elements. First is confession. It is the first step in spiritual healing. A sinner needs to confess his sins and admit that they committed those transgressions. Admitting alone will not be enough, atonement must be done for the transgression through Penance and finally absolution must be given by the priest for the forgiveness of one’s sin. The priest or confessor however is bound by the Seal of Confession not to betray or give away the confessed sins (Piggin).

Anointing the Sick and Dying or Last Rites was initially given to the sick and dying who are not able to attend mass. But it the criteria changed as long as there is danger of immediate death. Along with the anointing, the Last Rites also include Confession and Eucharist specially on cases that the dying person is not physically unable to go to Church (Piggin).

The other remaining two sacraments pertain to vocation and setting of commitment. These are decisions that would affect the life of the Christian. These vocation calls for a life long commitment. These are the sacraments of Marriage and Holy Vows.

            Marriage or Matrimony is the sacrament wherein two baptized Christian are joined together by love. This union is permanent and is approved by the Church. The sacrament of Matrimony is said to represent the union of Christ with the Church. For the marriage to be valid a man and a woman must explicitly express in front of witnesses their willingness to enter the union. They would recite their vows and exchange tokens or symbols of their love for each other. The Church, on the other hand, would expect the couple to rear their children under the guidance of Christianity.  Marriage, however, can only be undone by annulment or the Church would declare that no marriage ever took place (Piggin).

            There those that who would devote their entire life for the service for the Church. These chosen few are called forth into Priesthood or Holy Order. To theirs is a life of sacrifice and service. Their main goal is to emulate the life that Christ has undergone.

Currently the Holy Orders are classified into three positions, these are priest, bishop and deacon and they have different responsibilities and designation but all are centered for the service of the Church. Aspirants for priesthood are mandated by Canon Law to undergo a series of seminary program and learn philosophical and theological studies (Piggin).

             All these sacraments have only one purpose and intent. That is to guide the Christian individual in attaining the guaranteed place in Heaven. Prayers and offerings are intended for the soul to go straight to Heaven. Intercession of the saints and departed loved ones are sought after by every Christian in the hope that their journey would lead them straight to Heaven.

            A whole lifetime is spent by Christians in preparing for the after life. Whether the destination would be in Heaven or Purgatory, Christian tenets and beliefs encourages the individual to embrace the faith and seek God’s approval to enjoy life in eternity with God the creator.

References

Egyptian Mummification (2000).   Retrieved 19 September 2007, from http://www.spurlock.uiuc.edu/explorations/online/mummification/Pages/rituals1.html

Hedrick, C. What are Major Christian Beliefs? [Electronic Version], What is Christianity? Retrieved September 2007 from http://geneva.rutgers.edu/src/christianity/major.html.

History Of Christianity  – Fact Based Faith (2007). allaboutreligion.org.

Lutterloh, J. (2005). Eastern Religions Comparson and Contrast with Christianity Essay [Electronic Version]. Retrieved 19 September, 2007 from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/17014/eastern_religions_comparison_and_contrast.html.

The Order of Christian Funerals. (2007).   Retrieved 19 September, 2007, from http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/Religion/StPeters/funeral.html

Piggin, F. S. The Seven Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church.   Retrieved 19 September, 2007, from http://mb-soft.com/believe/text/sacramen.htm

Robinson, B. A. (2007). Beliefs about the afterlife. What happens after we die? : Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.

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