If you’ve ever taken a history class, you’ve probably learned about ancient Egypt. You learned about the pyramids and the pharaohs. You learned that those large structures were the burial places of the pharaohs. The Egyptians had elaborate burial practices that they believed were necessary to ensure their immortality after death.
The preservation of the body was considered critical if the dead wanted a chance at acceptance into the afterlife. Bodies were embalmed and mummified to allow the soul to return to the body so rebirth could take place and the afterlife could be enjoyed.
The two main processes of mummification are the removal of organs, except the heart, and the removal of liquid from the body to preserve the skin, hair and muscles. In the first step, they removed the intestines, stomach, lungs, and liver. After the organs were removed, they were sealed in specific canopic jars in the tomb as it was thought the deceased would need them in the afterlife.
The body was then cleaned and stuffed with aromatic plants and spices which were sewn inside. Then the dehydration process began. Egyptians used a naturally occurring salt that was found and extracted from dried lake beds, natron.
Once the salt was added to the body, it could take up to 70 days to complete the process of dehydration. After dehydration was complete, oils would be applied for ritual purposes and to prevent breaking limbs while being wrapped. Their knowledge of the human anatomy and how to preserve it was very advanced for being 2000-5000 years ago.
All of this effort in preparing a body for burial was because they cared deeply about the afterlife. These strict and elaborate rituals were deemed necessary to make it to the afterlife and to prosper there. Living a good life was not enough; the rituals performed were also required for reaching the afterlife.
This season of Advent calls us to think about the afterlife too, but in a much different way than the ancient Egyptians. As we prepare for the coming of baby Jesus at Christmas, we are also supposed to keep in mind the coming of Christ at the end of time. Catholics do not prepare by requiring big offerings and intricate rituals. We don’t believe that we can take our possessions with us.
So, how do we prepare?
- By following the example of Mary and giving the Lord our “yes” in welcoming God's son into our lives.
- By following the example of John the Baptist and preparing the way for the Lord.
- By following the example of the widow in Mark and giving out of our poverty and not just our abundance.
- By following the example of the Apostles and spreading the Good News to the ends of the earth.
- By following the teachings of Jesus that were passed down in Scripture and the Tradition of the Church
The afterlife is important and God has given us everything we need to attain it. He gave us His only Son. He gave us his Church to guide us. He gave us the examples of the saints who have already gotten there. Unlike the gods of the Egyptians, He does all the hard work for us; we just have to show up and be open to Him.
Written with the help of guest author Sarah Huber. Thank you.