Rorate Caeli

"Meditations on Death"
A Lenten Guest Series by Father Konrad zu Loewenstein
- I: Introduction

A Lenten Guest-Series by 
Father Konrad zu Loewenstein

Now that we have entered the liturgical season of Septuagesima, and are about to enter the great penitential season of Lent, it is appropriate to recall to mind the perennial Catholic teaching on death.

To this end I offer readers a synthesis of the respective material to be found in the book Preparation  for Death by St. Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori.

Proficiat ad vitam aeternam! Amen.


after the ‘Preparation for Death’, by St. Alphonsus Maria de’Liguori


...and that intelligent, charming young man, the life and the soul of the company, so sought after for his wit and his humour, for the elegance of his manners and the facetiousness of his conversation – where is he now? If you go into his room, he is not there, his bed has been taken by another; if you look in his wardrobe you will see that his arms and his clothes have passed into the hands of others.

Scarce 24 hours have elapsed since his death, and already his face, so beloved of his family and friends, so admired by all for its charm and youthful good looks, is become the colour of ashes, puffed up and disfigured; his body once so pampered, and indulged in its every desire and whim, now sends off an offensive odour. The windows have been opened wide, and a quantity of lilies procured, the sickly scent of which hangs heavily on the air. After a further while the coffin will be closed, taken away via the church to the grave, where he will be cast into the earth to become prey to the worms, and then to the rats; so that eventually all that remains of him will be dry bones, putrescence, and a little dust.

And know, beloved Christian, that so shall it be also for you. And in the room in which you have breathed forth your last, and have been judged by Jesus Christ, they will dance, they will play, and they will laugh as before. And your soul – where will it be then?

“Man will enter into the house of his Eternity” (Eccl.12.5): His eternity because it will be the eternity that he alone will have merited by virtue of his every thought, word, and deed throughout his whole life, in distinction to the eternity that any-one else has merited.

And in the house of this eternity he shall dwell forever: in the enjoyment of the perpetual recompense for this earthly life, that is according to the degree of merits or demerits that he has acquired: the degree of glory and happiness, or the degree of shame and suffering: either a joy so great and abundant that every moment for all eternity it will seem new; or intolerable suffering and despair that will never end, so that even after 100 or 1,000 million years his Hell will not yet even have begun.

Eternity! “The Great Thought”! (St. Augustine). ‘How many young men and women, says St. Alphonsus (on whose book ‘Preparation for Death’ these meditations are based) - how many young men and women have not abandoned the world at the thought of Eternity, to live in solitude and in the desert to attend only to the care of their souls, and so to be saved. One monk shut himself in a cave and did nothing but exclaim: “Eternity! Eternity!” Father Avila told a woman far from God to reflect continually on these two words: “Forever! Never!” And St. Theresa of Avila repeated frequently to her nuns: “One soul! One Eternity!”

‘Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the time of affliction come, and the years draw nigh of which thou shalt say: They please me not. Before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars be darkened and the clouds return after the rain... before the silver cord is broken and the golden fillet shrink back... and the dust return into the earth from whence it was, and the soul return to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, and all is vanity’ (Eccl.12).

So let our minds too be set on Eternity, so that on death we shall be found worthy to enter into the Heavenly Kingdom. Let us “remember the last things so we might not sin in Eternity” ( 7.40). Who knows, indeed, if these considerations that we are now making may not be the last call which Thou, o my God, shalt give me, and the last mercy that Thou shalt show me? ‘Extend Thy hand, then, o my Love’, says St. Alphonsus, and deliver me from the mire of my tepidity. Give me fervour, and let me love Thee as I should, at least for the days that remain to me upon this earth, so that I may henceforth do with great love all that Thou demandest of me.’

There are 5 more parts to these meditations which will be posted in these days leading up to and introductory of Lent