Bury the Dead

Online Lesson:

These online lessons may be used:
• by individuals anytime, anywhere.
• in group settings — families, faith sharing groups, faith formation programs, and schools.
• in “flipped” classroom situations for people to view before meeting face to face.
You may just want to use a suggested video, story, or question — in anyway that helps us recognize that God’s mercy is anytime, anywhere, and we are called to be merciful as well.

The structure of the lesson is based on Msgr. Francis Kelly’s Ecclesial Method.

Step 1 – Preparation: Each lesson will begin with a video and prayer to help us focus on the Works of Mercy in General.

Works of Mercy Reflection:

Students Madeline Kosator and Lindsay Hall created this video for their religion class.
How would you tell the story of the Works of Mercy in video, perhaps using your smartphone?


Loving God,

You created us to be at once both body and spirit so we can love You with our whole heart, soul and mind, and our neighbors as ourselves. And You saw that Your creation was good.

You taught us of the Paschal Mystery through Your Son: the truth that suffering and death is part of Your creation. You promised to be with us through the difficult times, and that Resurrection follows death.

We thank You for those who have gone before, those who have passed on the Story of Your creative love. We thank you for this community that transcends time as we, with the help of Christ who taught us how to love, may do our part to make real your Reign. We pray this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Step 2 – Proclamation: Each lesson will repeat the Works of Mercy to help us remember them.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy:

The Spiritual Works of mercy are acts of compassion, as listed below, by which we help our neighbors with their emotional and spiritual needs.

Counsel the doubtful
Instruct the ignorant
Admonish sinners
Comfort the afflicted
Forgive all offenses/injury
Bear wrongs patiently
Pray for the living and the dead

The Corporal Works of Mercy:

The Corporal Works of mercy are these kind acts by which we help our neighbors with their material and physical needs.

Shelter the homeless/Welcome the stranger
Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Visit the sick
Visit the imprisoned
Bury the dead

Step 3 – Explanation: This step will address a specific Work of Mercy.

This Month: Bury the Dead

Bernadette Rudolph, Director for Family and Community Development for the Diocese of Scranton, shared the following:

During the Middle Ages in Europe, 7 was considered the number of perfection so most things spiritual were packaged in groups of 7.  Since there are only 6 works of mercy in Mt 25, a 7th one was pulled from the Old Testament Book of Tobit (bury the dead).  It really is about the need we have to have someone bury us since we cannot do it ourselves.  It is also a way to respect the human body at all stages of life.

I. Respect for the Dead is Part of our Tradition

Tobit took the initiative to bury those killed by Sennacherib, depriving him of any chance to make sport of the dead as a conqueror. This was a risky thing for Tobit to do, which underscores the respect he had for his own people, and for the physical body that Paul later called a temple of the Holy Spirit.

From the Book of Tobit:

In the days of Shalmaneser I had performed many charitable deeds for my kindred, members of my people. I would give my bread to the hungry and clothing to the naked. If I saw one of my people who had died and been thrown behind the wall of Nineveh, I used to bury him.

Sennacherib returned from Judea, having fled during the days of the judgment enacted against him by the King of Heaven because of the blasphemies he had uttered; whomever he killed I buried. For in his rage he killed many Israelites, but I used to take their bodies away by stealth and bury them. So when Sennacherib looked for them, he could not find them.

But a certain Ninevite went and informed the king about me, that I was burying them, and I went into hiding. When I realized that the king knew about me and that I was being hunted to be put to death, I became afraid and took flight.

All my property was confiscated; I was left with nothing. All that I had was taken to the king’s palace, except for my wife Anna and my son Tobiah.

II. Respect for the Dead is a Community Affair

Since we are created by God as being at once corporeal and spiritual, we need to be grateful and have respect for our bodies from conception through, and even beyond, our natural death. The process of dying and death exposes our need for community, even in an age where individualism and independence are so valued. Our humbling need for others at the time of death is inescapable… and exhibits the true gift that our communion is.

III. Respect for the Dead spans Time

This also ties into the Communion of Saints. We are made and called to be connected to community as mentioned above, across both space and time. We remember those who came before us, and thank God for the gift they were to their loved ones while on earth, and still are to us today. As Catholics, we have a tradition the illuminates and helps us to understand our experience of life in relationship with God. Fr. Michael Himes in Boston College’s last lecture series (starting at 28:30) says, “You’ve got to spend a lot of time talking to a lot of dead people. You’ve got to spend a lot of time talking to Thomas Aquinas and Augustine, to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, … to Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Sienna… But you’ve also got to spend a lot of time talking to your contemporaries and examining yourself.”

We show respect to those who have died before us through a dignified burial, we remember them through memorials of many kinds, and we honor them by making the wisdom they possessed our own and, in turn, illuminating that wisdom through our own experience of the Reign of God.

Step 4 – Application and Appropriation into Life is the bridge between head knowledge and daily living as a disciple of Christ.

Faith in Action:

Reflection Questions:

Burying the dead bespeaks of our respect for those who passed away, both for their lives and for the physical “temple of the Holy Spirit” that remains with us after death. Describe any special traditions or rituals that your local community or family have to express love for the deceased?

Does your family visit cemeteries to pay honor to who have passed? Share a story of someone you knew (or knew of) and the impact she/he had on your life.

May is a month to remember those who served our country, especially those who paid the ultimate price for us. Share a story of someone who was so selfless he/she went into harm’s way for others in their country, even though they hadn’t met most of us. What would make them do such a thing?

Describe a memorial that impressed you. It could be a grave marker, an heirloom, an endowment, or some other legacy. How does that unite believers across the span of time, and what does that say about the person it honors?

Suggested Activities (add your suggestions below):


  • Walk together through a scrapbook or album that contains photos or stories from most distant time you can find. Share ways that person or those people still influence your lives for the better.
  • Take a trip to the cemetery and reflect on the lives and love that are depicted in the memorials. Say a special prayer for those interned in the cemetery, and ask them to pray for special intentions your family may have.

Parish and School:

  • Volunteer to help with a funeral luncheon.
  • Call a local funeral home, and arrange an age-appropriate tour and/or discussion of all that goes into burying the dead with love and respect.
  • Share stories about family members who have passed away, and how their lives were celebrated through funeral services and internment.

Step 5 – Celebration: Lessons will close with a prayer, silent or communally, that gives glory to God.

Closing Prayer:

Prayer for Memorial Day (Last Monday in May, from the USCCB)

God of power and mercy,
you destroy war and put down earthly pride.
Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears,
that we may all deserve to be called your sons
and daughters.
Keep in your mercy those men and women
who have died in the cause of freedom
and bring them safely
into your kingdom of justice and peace.
We ask this though Jesus Christ our Lord.


Prayer with Those Gone Before Us

Loving God,
You created us, and saw that Your Handiwork was good.
Your Creation gives You Glory, and calls us to deep gratitude and respect.
You gave us Your People, a Communion that spans space and time.
We ask You to give us the strength to be a part of that community
in ways that honor those who have passed,
and gives wisdom to those who will follow,
so that we all may give Glory to You, O Creator of all that is Good.
We pray this through Christ our Lord.


In the “Leave a Reply” area below, please suggest another activity that addresses this Work of Mercy, or share a story about someone you want to honor who has passed.


Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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