cover image Catholic Book of the Dead

Catholic Book of the Dead

Ann Ball, Edward Wakin. Our Sunday Visitor, $12.95 (132pp) ISBN 978-0-87973-744-3

Praying to the dead, purgatory, limbo--the customs and notions associated with death by the Roman Catholic Church are well known, but often poorly understood. Ball's book will correct that situation, taking both Catholic readers and the merely curious into the underpinnings of these funerary rites and ways of marking our losses. Ball emphasizes the positive as well, explaining, for example, how the Church has tried to disassociate popular understanding of purgatory from notions of ``pyromanic phantasms'' and position that state more properly as the ``forecourt of heaven.'' Exploring Roman Catholic ways of dealing with death in varying cultures, as, for example, the venerable Irish wake or the Mexican Day of the Dead, the author explains as well the historical development of many customs: why All Souls' Day follows All Saints' Day; the theology behind praying for the dead; the Roman Catholic tradition of providing a full burial for the poor, etc. All of which is to say that, despite its rather foreboding title, Book of the Dead just may surprise and delight as well as inform. (Apr.)