The cycle of funerary texts called “Bardo Thodol” is often casually known in the west as the “Tibetan Book of the Dead.” A more accurate translation of the title might be something like “Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State,” from “thodol,” meaning liberation, and “bardo,” meaning liminality. According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this text was hidden during the 8th century and rediscovered in the 12th century. Funerary texts are a literary genre, found in many cultures, meant to provide guidance to the newly deceased or soon-to-be deceased about how to survive and prosper in the afterlife.
As Catholics, we have our own funerary texts. Our scripture overflows with God’s promise of eternal life for us. Jesus tells his friends, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places… I am indeed going to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2-3). The resurrection of Jesus points to what awaits us once our earthly life has ended.
Also, the Rites for Pastoral Care of the Sick: Rites of Anointing and Viaticum provide prayers, hymns and excerpts from scripture intended to “help the dying person… to face the natural human anxiety about death by imitating Christ in his patient suffering and dying. The Christian will be helped to surmount his or her fear in the hope of heavenly life and resurrection through the power of Christ, who destroyed the power of death by his own dying.”
Finally, our principal funerary text is the Order of Christian Funerals. As we pray the funeral vigil, the mass, and the committal service, we offer our prayers that the deceased may enter into eternal life and that his or her loved ones might find consolation and continue to trust in God’s promise. Taken together, all these beautiful prayers might be considered our Catholic book of the dead, as they guide us in this life and into the next through our hope in God’s promise of salvation.