As Catholics, we should all be wishing for a “happy death.”

And when the time comes, we (the laity) are buried facing the east. Ordained priests, however, are buried facing the west.

At least, that’s the medieval Catholic practice that has survived hundreds of years most often practiced by traditional communities today.

But why?

As the pious tradition holds, at the Last Judgement, the laity will rise up to meet the Son of God in the east. Priests, however, rise up facing west to see their congregation and be held accountable for how well they stewarded their flock.

Bishop Guillaume Durand of Mende in Southern France said at the end of the 13th century, “a man ought so to be buried, that while his head lies to the West his feet are turned to the East, for thus he prays as it were by his very position and suggests that he is ready to hasten from the West to the East.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia has to say: “the medieval liturgists apparently know no exception to their rule that both before the altar and in the grave the feet of all Christians should be pointed to the East.”

The idea for clergy however, “seems to be that the bishop (or priest) in death should occupy the same position in the church as during life, i.e. facing his people whom he taught and blessed in Christ’s name.”

Pray for your priest so he isn’t met with condemnation of his congregation at the Last Judgement!

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