Some years ago I was addressing a group of young adults at a “Theology on Tap” gathering. I was asked by an attendee of some ways to avoid temptation. Among the things I offered was to meditate frequently on death, especially at night before going to bed. The bar got very quiet and everyone looked at me as though I had just been speaking Swahili. “What did he just say?…Could you repeat that?” Perhaps my remarks were the right answer but the wrong answer at the same time. In these modern, medically advanced times, those in their 20s don’t really relate to death as a concept or near reality. Meditating on death seems strange and foreign to most of them.
But the instinct of the Church has always been to link night prayer to death, by way of a kind of “dress rehearsal.” Consider these prayers:
1. Into your hands O Lord I commend my sprit. This is a reference to Jesus’ dying words, “Father! Into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).
2. Lord, now you let your servant go in peace, your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of your people. These are the words of Simeon, who had been promised he would not see death until he had beheld the Messiah. Now that he has held the infant Jesus in his arms he can die peacefully.
3. May the Lord grant us a peaceful night and a peaceful death. This is the concluding line of night prayer just before the Salve Regina, where we ask the Blessed Mother to “tuck us in” for the night.