Embalming - soul leaving the body

Should a person be embalmed before we are absolutely certain that the soul has left the body?

I realize that we regard death as that point at which the soul leaves the body. This is distinct from the point at which brain activity ceases, and/or when the heart quits beating. Within a few hours of apparent death, though, the embalming process begins. Quite obviously, if the person were not dead before embalming began, they would certainly be dead once the process is completed. (The same can be said of cremation.)

I do know that in certain places (such as Poland, where by the way they typically do not embalm), the presumed deceased were placed in a special room, where they lay for a period of days, again, to be absolutely sure they were dead. I do not know if they do this anymore, but they once did. When putrefaction sets in, then you can know with certainty that the person is dead and that, indeed, the soul has left the body. But I realize it is more difficult to embalm at that point.

Why, then, do we as Catholics acquiesce to the idea that embalming a few hours after the person is pronounced dead is acceptable?

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Needless to say, this guy’s soul hadn’t left his body yet.

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How do you propose that we are absolutely certain?

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I wondered the same. I’m not really big on leaving bodies lay for days in a room till they putrefy.
Plus, many of the people who expire are pretty definitely dead, like rigor mortis etc

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I always thought once you were dead, your soul is released. No?

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Obvious signs of morbidity are not hard to miss…in the “old” days a person may have exhibited signs as if they had expired only too scare the bejeezers out of folks when they showed signs of life…things (at least in 'merica) like that really do not happen in modern medicine anymore.

As a Paramedic if we were to declare someone dead in the field and there were no signs of “obvious morbidity” we had to confirm asystole in three leads of the EKG.

I heard hill folk used to shoot a shotgun off near the head to make sure they weren’t burying a loved one who may have just been a heavy sleeper but our employer seemed less than enthused with such suggestions.

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Unappetizing as it seems, when putrefaction begins to set in.

I read once, in a traditional source, that three days is recommended, for that very reason. Again, quite unappetizing.

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Death, in the spiritual sense, is when the soul leaves the body. That can occur some time after all visible signs of life are gone.

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I can tell you by unfortunate personal experience that it doesn’t take 3 days.

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HomeschoolDad, where is this from? I have never heard this before, except here. Is it based on Church teaching or what?

No, it’s not based on Church teaching. It’s probably more based on local customs for making sure they didn’t bury someone alive by accident.

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If the body is no longer breathing and there is no pulse, the soul has left the body.

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Exactly. And back in the olden days, they didn’t know what people now know about death. Medicine has become advanced enough that no one needs to wait for decay to know someone is dead.

No point in embalming after 3 days anyway so…

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Not necessarily. The priest who administered the last rites to President Kennedy said that he was sure the soul had not yet left the body. He might have been saying that just to comfort the family, but we can piously think that the soul does not leave the body immediately. We just don’t know.

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It was in a book published by Britons Catholic Library, in London if I’m not mistaken, in the 1970s or early 1980s. I no longer have my copy of that book.

When the body has achieved “room temperature” you can safely assume the soul has left the building…

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I have to wonder if that guy in Mississippi had “achieved room temperature”.

If we don’t know, how did the priest know?
This whole premise makes no sense to me.

I was asking if it was church teaching. So far, no sources from the Church have been provided, just “hearsay.”

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There’s nothing that says you have to be embalmed… If you prefer, just leave instructions that you don’t want it. Neither DH nor I see any need for either the expense, or care for the idea of having large quantities of ourselves poured down the sink. :wink:

Have you ever read “Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain”? I was subbing one day, and was bored, and grabbed a random reader off the shelf. That essay was inclined, and it was very eye-opening.

I really would prefer not to be embalmed and to have a “green burial”. However, due to family sensibilities, I cannot have those wishes realized as long as certain family members are living (i.e., if they outlive me, which is not likely). They think it is horrible not to be embalmed, and I do not wish to cause them mental anguish. It really won’t matter either way.

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