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An American Catholic Culture of Death and Dying, 1900-1955

From: American Catholic Studies
Volume 124, Number 2, Summer 2013
pp. 21-48 | 10.1353/acs.2013.0014

Abstract

Abstract:

In the first part of the twentieth century, Americans increasingly embraced a more modern understanding of death and practices of dying. This modern attitude included three main characteristics. It assigned greater weight to the authoritative role of the medical professional; increased the emotional distance between the dying individual and surviving family members; and minimized the spiritual meaning of death. The American Catholic Church fervently deviated from this modern – and negatively self-labeled, "pagan" – view of death. More specifically, the Catholic popular press produced prescriptive literature – largely authored by priests – educating and advising lay readership about the Catholic, and proper, view of death and way of dying. This literature employed negative imagery and positive reinforcement to remind readers of their obligation to adhere to a Catholic understanding and experience of death, even as they came face to face with the modern trappings and secularized views of death. The literature warned Catholics of the material and spiritual dangers of the "pagan" view of death, while simultaneously highlighting the religious benefits of preparing their souls throughout life and at the hour of death.



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