Memento mori, or “remember your death,” is the Latin phrase long associated with the practice of remembering the unpredictable and inevitable end of one’s life. This phrase and the symbols and sayings associated with it were particularly popular in the medieval Church.
The value and benefits of meditating on death in this way has been recognized by philosophers and other religious traditions for millennia. For the Christian, however, remembrance of death extends beyond the reality of earthly life and bodily death. Just as death is a doorway to the afterlife, meditation on death is the doorway to meditation on the afterlife, or what has traditionally been called the “Last Things.”
Meditation on death as well as judgment, hell, and heaven has been encouraged in the Church for centuries. Why meditate on these things? Because thinking about the definite end of life — death — necessarily leads to the consideration of life’s possible ends. Meditation on death in this context is not morose, but rather becomes a celebration. For those who choose to accept the grace of salvation, death is a positive step, a doorway to heaven.
There is a reason St. Benedict urged his monks in his Rule to “keep death daily” before their eyes (Rule, 4.47). It makes no sense to prepare every once in a while for death and the afterlife. The entire point of the practice is that death could come at any time, so it’s necessary to remember this regularly.
I have found that practicing Memento Mori quickly orders my priorities correctly, and also puts my daily worries into perspective. It has helped me with detachment from worldly things, and even with forgiving people more quickly than I would have otherwise. It also reminds me to tell my friends and family that I love them daily, and has increased my gratitude for life. It has been an extremely positive, purgative and healing way of praying. IT also reminds us to pray for the souls in Purgatory. I thoroughly recommend that you try this beautiful ancient Catholic tradition in your life.