“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
The ancient Christian practice of memento mori — remembering one’s own inevitable death — doesn’t exactly sound appealing. But when understood in the context of our Catholic faith and our hope in the Resurrection, there’s much to appreciate in the message.
Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, who penned a Lenten devotional called “Remember Your Death: Memento Mori,” noted that through the triumph of the cross, remembering our death involves not just considering one’s own mortality, but Christ’s victory over death. Some also view the act as a motivator to live a meaningful and virtuous life.
Sister Theresa Aletheia, a Daughter of St. Paul, said her devotional was designed to help others meditate on the moments of their lives and ultimately remember our Christian hope in the resurrection. It includes daily Scripture passages, Lenten meditations, memento-mori-themed examinations, intercessory prayer and prompts for journaling and prayer. A companion journal also is available from the Daughters of St. Paul. A new prayer book, “Memento Mori: Prayers on the Last Things,” was released Nov. 2.
The practice of memento mori was popularized in medieval times, but in reality dates back to early Christianity, as evidenced through Scripture. Examples include:
• “In whatever you do, remember your last days, and you will never sin” (Sirach 7:36).
• “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
The image of the skull also has been represented in Christian art for centuries, most notably among depictions of the saints, including St. Jerome, St. Aloysius, St. Mary Magdalene and St. Francis, all of whom used images of skulls and other memento mori items as part of their spiritual reflection.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers insights on the importance of preparing for the hour of death:
• “Death is the end of earthly life. Our lives are measured by time, in the course of which we change, grow old and, as with all living beings on earth, death seems like the normal end of life. That aspect of death lends urgency to our lives: remembering our mortality helps us realize that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfillment (CCC 1007).
• “Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience … Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death? If you aren’t fit to face death today, it’s very unlikely you will be tomorrow …” (CCC 1014)
• “Remembering Your Death: Memento Mori,” is available at Pauline Books & Media, 9804 Watson Road in Crestwood. A companion journal also is available. Visit Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble’s personal website at pursuedbytruth.com.
• “Memento Mori: Prayers on the Last Things,” also by Sister Theresa Aletheia, was released by the Daughters of St. Paul on Nov. 2. The prayer book helps people to meditate on death and the afterlife, traditionally called “the Last Things,” in order to prepare for heaven.
• “Life out of Death: Meditations on the Paschal Mystery,” by Hans Urs Von Balthasar
• “The Defence of Skeletons,” an essay by G.K. Chesterton, which is included in “The Defendant,” a collection of his essays