From the Pastor
REQUIESCANT IN PACE:
PRAYING FOR THE DEAD, THE CONCLUSION
“From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1032).
In the series REQUIESCANT IN PACE: PRAYING FOR THE DEAD, which concludes with this column, I have reviewed the basic beliefs that we as Catholics share about death and what happens after death. For those who have not fully chosen God, and thus enjoy heaven, and those who have not fully rejected God, and thus suffer hell, there is a process of purgation, or cleansing, which takes place after death that we call purgatory. I have suggested that this process is best understood as a form of rehabilitation, similar to that undertaken by people addicted to drugs at a drug rehabilitation clinic. While it is painful, as a person’s “addiction” to sin and the effects of sin slowly fade away, it is also a process of hope, as that person is assured of salvation and is purified by the loving grace and mercy of God.
Just as in this life we often experience God’s love and mercy most powerfully through the loving prayers and support of our brothers and sisters in the faith, the same is true in the life to come for those who are undergoing the cleansing process of purgatory. From the very beginning, drawing on earlier Jewish practices (see 2 Maccabees 12:41-45), the Church has prayed for the dead. And just as we believe that our prayers can be efficacious for our brothers and sisters facing struggles in this life, so too we believe that our prayers can be of real benefit to our brothers and sisters in purgatory.
Prayers for the dead exercise the power of binding and loosing that Christ entrusted to the Church (see Matthew 18:18). While Peter, the Apostles, and their successors exercise that power in a unique way, Christ entrusted the power to the Church, and each of us, as members of the Church, exercise that power in our own way. The prayers and spiritual sacrifices, such as almsgiving and works of penance, of individual Christians on behalf of the dead help to free those persons from the vestiges of sin still holding them back in purgatory. But if the prayer and spiritual sacrifices of individuals is good, the prayer and spiritual sacrifices of the whole Church, such as liturgies, have even greater effect. In liturgical prayer, the whole Body of Christ joins together with our head, Jesus, in praying for that person. The first liturgy we offer for that person is the funeral liturgy, which is why it is so important that our deceased brothers and sisters receive a proper funeral and burial. But we also offer other liturgies for the deceased, chief among which are Masses for the dead. There is no greater or more effective prayer or sacrifice that can be offered for the dead than the sacrifice of Christ himself offered in the Mass, which is why we also urge that funerals for Catholics be a full funeral Mass. Later Masses offered for the intention of a deceased loved one are also most effective and encouraged and can be scheduled by calling the parish office.
I hope this series has helped to deepen our understanding of the mystery of death and leads us to even greater prayer for all of our deceased brothers and sisters, not just in November, but throughout the year.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
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