Death is Not The End: A study of the cultural beliefs and rituals surrounding death and dying in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Teresa Woodside
University of New England
Death Is Not The End: A study of the cultural beliefs and rituals surrounding death and dying in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Since the beginning of recorded history nothing has cast more fear, sadness, or uncertainty as death or dying. The Egyptians viewed death as a passageway to the next life. The ancient Jews had set rituals regarding the dead and the handling of the deceased prior to and during burial according to the Law of Moses. Early Christians viewed death with great fear and trepidation mostly because of a belief that God was a punishing or angry God not a loving God. The one theme each of these groups has in common is their belief in an afterlife. It is precisely because of this belief in the afterlife that these cultural groups perform certain rituals at death to prepare the body for burial. The same thing can be said about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in regards to rituals at death to prepare the body for burial. The difference for Latter-Day Saints is their belief in a loving not an angry God, and because of this belief the preparation, care, and treatment of the body begins well before birth, and does not end at death.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is represented in the Greater Portland area by nearly 4,000 members. Organized in upper-state New York on April 6, 1830 with six original members, the church has grown into a world-wide church with a membership of over 13 million most of who live outside the United States. When one understands some of the core beliefs of the LDS church, then one will understand the basis for their life, death and burial rituals. One of their core beliefs is that family and human relationships are eternal. To a member of the LDS church, life is eternal. Because the spirit of man is eternal, then life did not start at birth but started prior to birth. Faust (2004) described the belief that the spirit is eternal by comparing life to a three-act play.
Act 1: Premortal Life
Latter-Day Saints believe that life did not begin at their birth but in fact began long before that. They believe that all humans were once part of a greater family in what they term the Permortal Life where we lived as spirit children of a loving Father in Heaven (Acts 17:29, D&C 93:33, Abraham 3:22). In the Premortal existence, we all grew and progressed and developed our personalities and talents. Progress was limited because of the absence of the physical body needed to increase our knowledge and understanding through experiences that could be had only through mortality. The Plan was to go to earth and gain a physical body in order to progress further to become like our Father in Heaven. Other details about this Plan such as the need for a Savior, because each spirit child will be given the gift of agency to make their own choices while in mortality, are not important to this paper. However the importance of the physical body is important in understanding some of the other principle beliefs that ultimately relate to rituals during life and at death. Act 2: Mortal Life
In this part of the three-act play, the spirit of an individual is joined to its physical body. Latter-Day Saints believe that while here in this part of their eternal progression they must participate in several ordinances or rituals throughout their lifetime to prepare them for eternal life and exaltation. These ordinances include baptism, confirmation, priesthood ordination for males, temple endowment and sealing or marriage in an LDS temple. The penultimate of all these ordinances is the sealing of a man and woman in a temple marriage for “Time and all Eternity”. During the temple ceremonies all persons are dressed in white and other special temple clothing...
References: Abraham (Translated by Joseph Smith Jr. 1842) The Book of Abraham. The Pearl of Great Price, (pp. 35-38).
Faust, J.E., (2004) Where do I make my stand? Liahona, Nov (pp. 18-21).
King James, (1979) The gospel according to St. Matthew, The acts of the apostles. King James version of the Holy Bible (pp. 1215-1216, 1397) Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Packer, B.K. (1980) The power to seal. In B. Packer The holy temple (pp. 84-85) Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company.
Packer, B.K. (1984) The premortal existence. In B. Packer Our father’s plan (pp. 14-23, 24-40) Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company.
Smith, J., (1835) Doctrine and covenants, Section 89, 132, 93. (pp. 175-176, 266-273)
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