Some years ago when I was in the seminary, an older priest in a rectory where I stayed had an unusual piece of furniture in his sitting room. He used it like a chest or large travel trunk. He stored books in it. I told him it looked like a coffin. He said it was. “One day I will be buried in that.”
Sure enough, at his funeral some ten years later, I saw that plain pine box that had sat against the wall in his sitting room. What once held the treasure of his books waiting to be read again now held the treasure of his body waiting to rise again.
Coffins, often called caskets today, have become a bit too removed from the old wooden boxes that once sufficed for most. Made of strong steel, with airtight seals and cushioned satin interiors, they seem designed to insulate not only the dead, but also us from the reality that the earth must reclaim our bodies until the great resurrection of all the dead. Add to that the fact that these sealed capsules are then placed in concrete liners (to preserve the level of the round above), and burial really doesn’t seem to be burial anymore. It’s more like storage in an underground basement or cellar. Modern life can be very insular, even in death.
I do not wish to appear insensitive. Burial customs vary from age to age and have various things to recommend them and to critique about them. Death is perhaps the hardest reality we face, not merely our own but also the deaths of those we love.
The beautiful video below shows a man making a traditional wooden coffin. For him it is obviously a very spiritual act, deeply rooted in his Catholic Faith. Such care and thoughtfulness goes into each action of the process!
It might strike you as odd to watch a man build a coffin. But take the time to watch this three-minute video. The coffin maker speaks great wisdom and love as he plies his craft. It is clear this is no mere box; it is a precious and sacred container for the body and a doorway for the soul.
Here are a couple of his quotes that I find especially meaningful:
I never feel like it’s finished. But I guess that’s a fit thing since that’s how we likely feel at the end of our lives too.
I think one of the most important aspects of the coffin is that it can be carried. I think we’re meant to carry each other. Carrying someone you love is very important when we deal with death … to know that we played a part and shouldered our share of the burden … If we make it too easy we deprive ourselves of a chance to get stronger so that we can carry on.
Enjoy this strangely beautiful video.