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Why and How to Pray for Deceased Loved Ones

November 1, 2012

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Photo/libertygrace0. Licensed under Creative Commons

A close friend’s unexpected death last year was devastating for me. As her casket was lowered into the ground on a spring afternoon, I felt she was gone forever.

She’s not gone though. Since her death I’ve frequently sensed her presence—in memories, through other people and most of all in prayer.

Praying for her soul is a natural continuation of our friendship because we prayed for each other when she was alive.

The Church teaches that believers remain connected—whether they’re in heaven, on earth or in purgatory, and that it is beneficial to pray for those who have died but are not canonized saints. Since this week we celebrate All Souls Day, here is a little background on the Nov. 2 feast day, some reasons to pray for your loved ones and prayers you can use, including the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Praying for the Dead in the Early Church

Early Christians remembered and prayed for the dead, and the practice has continued since then. Different dioceses began adopting a formal feast day in the 11thcentury.

According to the Catechism, most of us who don’t merit hell yet still need purification before we can enter heaven will pass through a state the Church calls purgatory when we die. (CCC1030)  With our prayers we can help their loved ones’ souls move from purgatory to heaven.

There are several scriptural bases for praying for the dead. One of them is found in the second book of Maccabees, one of a series of books in Catholic bibles that the Church recognizes as the apocrypha. In the story of a military commander who offers prayers and sacrifice for his dead soldiers (2 Macc. 12:38-45), it is clear that the living can help the dead: “for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death.” (2 Macc. 12:44)

In Romans 8:37-39, St. Paul echoed this idea when he wrote that nothing can separate us, “neither life nor death” from the love of God.

The Divine Mercy and the Poor Souls

There are many ways to help your deceased loved ones. One way is by praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet for them. A chaplet is a series of prayers that can be prayed on rosary or other beads. This chaplet doesn’t just benefit the living and the dying. According to Dr. Robert Stackpole the chaplet’s power is based on the Passion of Christ by which He merited every saving and sanctifying grace for the world and on the prayer offered with sincere trust in the Divine Mercy.

How to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Other chaplets for the Poor Souls in Purgatory:

The De Profundis is the penitential Psalm 130 (in some bibles Psalm 129) which is prayed as part of evening prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and also in commemorations of the dead. Each time you pray the De Profundis, you can receive a partial indulgence for yourself (the remission of a portion of punishment for sin).

More Ways to Pray

During November, there are more opportunities to help the Poor Souls by gaining indulgences that are only applicable to them.

  • Visit a Cemetery: obtain a partial indulgence by praying at a cemetery during November or a plenary indulgence for visiting a cemetery each day between Nov. 1 and Nov. 8.
  • Visit a Church or Public Oratory on Nov. 2: obtain a plenary indulgence after devoutly reciting the Our Father and the Creed.
  • Pray the Eternal Rest (Requiem aeternam): Obtain a partial indulgence year round, when reciting Requiem aeternam dona ei (eis), Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei (eis). Requiescat (-ant) in pace Amen. In English: Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them May they and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
  • Finally, here is an extensive list of prayers.
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