Beliefs and Rituals on Death and Dying. The Case of Mexican Catholics

Essay, 2018

10 Pages, Grade: A




Sickness, Dying and Death Beliefs among the Mexican Catholics

Deathbed Beliefs and Rituals

Interment/Burial Beliefs

Afterlife Beliefs

Mourning and Remembrance

Masses for the Departed

Individual and Annual Remembrances

All Souls’ Day and Dia de los Muertos



Beliefs and Rituals on Death & Dying among the Mexican Catholics


Beliefs and rituals of death, burial and their significances, and the after death happenings, plus, the living and non-living connection remain to be focal, among all major cultural and even religious traditions. In this sense, the rituals and beliefs behind grieving and death vary from one culture to another, and they are often highly influenced by religion. Evidently, the Mexican culture has been observed to have a unique fascination with this aspect; a relationship that has generated myriad meanings, practices and attitudes concerning death across history, not to mention that it has also contributed to the building of the Mexican state and its respective culture; becoming a constituent of the national symbol. The distinct Mexican holidays’ expressions are normally reflected in the yearly religious and civic, alongside historical calendars. The primary demonstration of the relationships between death culture, holidays and the Mexican identity is the Day of the Dead, which is celebrated every year on 2nd November. While the population’s majority is considered to be catholic, it has been noted that religious syncretism, which dates back to the Spanish invasion and colonization is mirrored during these holidays. On top of understanding the rituals and beliefs of death, burials, mourning and memorialization of the dead and afterlife beliefs among the Mexican Catholics, this paper will also be providing further insights concerning how these people perceive the presence of the dead and how they evade or accept the realities of death.

Sickness, Dying and Death Beliefs among the Mexican Catholics

Research has it that, among the Mexican culture, the deceased continue to play a critical role amongst the living world, and unlike the European and the US Protestant views, the dead are typically remembered with a lot of affection and love. The Mexican Catholics consider dying to be part and parcel of the life cycle, not to mention that they highly accept this idea, though possibly with certain fatalism that is absent in the modern American culture. The Mexicans, especially those in Latin America, often believe that sickness remains to be a social and an emotional issue (Doran & Downing Hansen, 2006). In other words, they believe that a person will become sick and die because of being out of balance within oneself or with his/her environment, and perhaps because of curses from other people.

A good example of the aforementioned phenomena is that the Mexicans suppose that once a Mexican pregnant woman fails to satisfy her cravings, she will definitely affect the baby, causing injury or may even cause death of the infant. In this regard, while nervousness is time and again attributed to an excessive concentration of bile in the bloodstream, in susto (soul loss), which is linked with myriad illnesses, it is commonly believed that stern fright can cause a person to disassociate with his/her soul, resulting in severe or chronic illness and may be death (Irish et al, 2014). The Hispanics believe that the only remedy for this occurrence is by going back to the area of separation from the individual’s soul, and reinstating unity the body and the spirit.

Besides, in this culture, belief in the ‘evil eye,’ which is dubbed the mal de ojo, remains insidious, and is usually applied in explaining mysterious deaths or the so-called sudden deaths. Mal de ojo is a notion accredited to an individual looking at another with lots of admiration or jealousy, which as a result causes a curse that leads either to a sickness, death or both (Doran & Downing Hansen, 2006). A great number of the Mexican Catholics believe that babies or infants, especially, are prone to mal de ojo, and therefore; they discourage overly child admiration since it can cause their premature death or sickness.

Most recent studies show that the prominent death causes in the Mexicans include cancer, chronic liver disease, unintentional injuries, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. However, even though they do not treat death itself as a taboo, it is has been observed that they often evade discussions concerning the end of life care alongside those of the death process. In short, it is evident that in this culture, regarding sickness, a great number of Mexicans prefer learning such heart-throbbing news from a relative rather than from a physician (Hondagneu-Sotelo et al, 2004). Concerning the idea of organ donation, the Mexican Catholics view it with a great degree of cynicism, besides, they do not believe in donating organs posthumously, and above all, they typically object to the idea of autopsy, and indeed, despising pre-planning funeral activities as they believe that talking about events like autopsy before death hastens death.

Deathbed Beliefs and Rituals

As earlier noted, in the Hispanic culture, it is normally seen as a bad omen discussing matters death in the presence of a sick person; many supposing that this will accelerate the death. In line with some folk traditions, the spirits of individuals who die while in hospitals may get confused or lost, thus; experience a hard time when searching for their afterlife way, therefore, they advocate that caring for a dying patient is only convenient while done in their homes.

Normally, the female relatives, excluding the pregnant women who are not allowed to be in proximity with a dying person since it is regarded a bad luck that may affect the infant or the mother, are given the responsibility to tend the dying or the sick (Walter, 2017).

Hispanic beliefs surrounding dying and sickness are usually characterized by sturdy folk practices that are combined with Catholic saint reverence and a significant dependence on material relics such as candle lighting and charms alongside amulets and many others. In accordance with the sickness and the preference, miniature statues and favored saint charms are normally placed near the bed of the dying patient, together with rosary beads, candles and even prayer cards so as to provide comfort in the understanding that there is God’s presence in the room comforting the afflicted (Irish et al, 2014). The prayer cards generally contain a picture that has a short prayer and blessings, while the votive candles operate just like these prayer cards by displaying a picture of a favored saint and that saint’s prayer. Once the candle has been lit, the Mexican Catholics believe that the patron saint is now being called so as to provide protection and blessings in the room and the people inside (Lujan & Campbell, 2006).

Nonetheless, manifold Mexican Catholics view illness and death as tests of an individual’s faith, and therefore; they incline to the patient’s anointing alongside last rites. The significance of these two events can never be played down since they are part and parcel of the seven sacraments of Catholicism. Prior to the Vatican II, anointing of the sick was more or less completely regarded the realm of near death, not to mention that it was offered in tandem with last rites (Lujan & Campbell, 2006). It is imperative to note that the last rites (Extreme Unction), performed at a person’s deathbed comprise of a blessing and a last confession only if the individual is still conscious.

Interment/Burial Beliefs

The deceased body has an active duty in the Hispanic culture, ranging from the wake and rosary to the activities involving funeral mass and burial, on top of being a core player in the religious rituals of remembering the departed. Therefore, embalming is fairly widespread among the Hispanics, and even though cremated is allowed, the greatest number of Mexican Catholics believe in burying their loved ones (Irish et al, 2014). In this respect, they believe they should follow the traditional Catholic beliefs that the body has to be buried so that it may go back to dust, before being resurrected for the afterlife. Among the Mexican Catholics, it is quite common holding a large wake/visitation with the extended family, with children and friends present. They not only place flowers and candles near the body at the visitation spot, but also bring foodstuff to the wake, which serve as a reinforcement to the ethnic ties and identity (Walter, 2017).


Excerpt out of 10 pages


Beliefs and Rituals on Death and Dying. The Case of Mexican Catholics
Kenyatta University
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ISBN (eBook)
beliefs, rituals, death, dying, case, mexican, catholics
Quote paper
Mutinda Jackson (Author), 2018, Beliefs and Rituals on Death and Dying. The Case of Mexican Catholics, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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