Tag Archives: purgatory

All Souls Day – Why pray for the dead?

November 2, 2012

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November 2 is All Souls Day, the day in the liturgical year that we set aside to pray for the dead.  November is the month when we especially remember those who have died.

But why pray for the dead?  There is no need to pray for those who have died and gone straight to heaven.  This feast presumes that some who die are imperfectly purified of their sinfulness, and while assured of the eventual benefits of eternal life, are barred from immediate access to heaven.  Instead, they are held in an unknown place where they are cleansed of their sinfulness, and after an indeterminate time, are finally released to take their place at God’s throne.

For centuries Catholics have said that Purgatory is the intermediate place of temporary punishment and purification, and that the length of time spent there is based upon the number and seriousness of one’s sins.  The Church defined this doctrine at the Second Council of Lyons (1274), the Council of Florence (1439), and the Council of Trent (1545-1563).  The term “Purgatory” still exists in Church literature today (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1030-1032) despite the fact that it is not mentioned in the Bible.  Two New Testament verses allude to a cleansing fire (1 Cor 3:15 and 1 Pt 1:7), and they have served as the basis for the concept of Purgatory which evolved from the fifth to thirteenth centuries.  Despite its long tradition, many contemporary scholars believe that neither verse is substantive enough to firmly establish Purgatory as a biblical reality, while others argue that there is nothing in Scripture to contradict it.  Today the Church is more inclined to speak about “The Final Purification” (Documents of Vatican II, The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, No. 51).

A key biblical reason to pray for the dead is found in the Old Testament second book of Maccabees (2 Mac 12:38-46).  This story recounts how Judas Maccabeus, a great Jewish general of the second century before Christ, had successfully led his army into a battle.  A day after hostilities ceased, the troops who survived returned to the battlefield to gather up the bodies of their deceased comrades to give them a respectful burial.  To their horror they found amulets, charm necklaces sacred to the idols of Jamnia, local pagan gods, tied around their necks and hidden under their armor.  This was a grave sin against the First Commandment’s law against idols (Ex 20:2-6; Dt 5:7-9).  Immediately “they turned to supplication and prayed that the sinful deed might be blotted out” (2 Mac 12:42).  In fact, the stunned survivors who placed an extraordinarily high premium on faithful observance of the Mosaic Law were so aghast at this sin that they feared their fellow soldiers would be consigned to everlasting punishment.  As firm believers in the resurrection, they were confident their prayers could help atone for the sins of the dead, release them from the punishment they deserved, and speed them on their journey to eternal light and peace.  Consequently the survivors took up a collection and sent it to Jerusalem so an expiatory sacrifice could be offered in the temple.

Consistent with this ancient Jewish practice, the Catholic Church has taught for centuries that our prayers aid those who have died, and the premier prayer to offer for their intention is the Eucharist, the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the source and summit of our Christian life.  The Church also recommends almsgiving, indulgences, and other works of penance for the deceased (Catechism, No. 1032).

During November please consider reserving some special time to pray for the dead, either someone you know, the deceased members of your parish, the victims of war and the terrorist attacks, or those who have no one to pray for them.  The Mass is the best option available, but any prayer or good deed offered for the spiritual welfare of the deceased is a great blessing.

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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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Why Catholics pray for the dead and three ways to do it

November 1, 2011

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candles at cathedral

November is dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Photo/ktylerconk. Licensed under Creative Commons.

At most funerals I attend, people say with some assurance, “he’s in a better place now” or “she’s in heaven,” as if their loved one’s immediate arrival in heaven were a foregone conclusion.

In our grief we want to believe our loved ones go right to heaven but the truth is, we don’t exactly know where they go.

The Bible provides evidence that there can be no imperfections in heaven. (Too pure are your eyes to look upon evil, and the sight of misery you cannot endure. Hab. 1:13)  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:

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (CCC 1030)

What is purgatory like? Most of the saints’ descriptions involve fire. St Paul writes:

“If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.” (I Cor. 3:12-15)

The fire may be metaphorical, since the souls in purgatory don’t have bodies. What causes them pain is their separation from God, even as they’re also joyful that they will enter heaven.

The thought of a loved one suffering is motivation to pray, but there is another reason. There are three states of the Church: those on earth (Church Militant), those who have died and are being purified (Church Suffering) and those who are in glory with God (Church Triumphant). (CCC 954)

In charity, we’re called to commend the souls of the faithful departed to God’s mercy and pray for them. We can help them not only through our prayers but also by having Masses said for them, by giving alms and by offering pious works for the spiritual benefit of others.

During November, which is dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, there are more opportunities to help them by earning 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 on All Souls Day.
  • Pray the Eternal Rest:  Obtain a partial indulgence year round when reciting:   Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen

Even if our loved ones are already in heaven, it’s still beneficial to pray because another soul might need the help. Someday we ourselves may need the prayers of the living. In his prayer for a departed emperor, St. Ambrose shows this love of neighbor:

“Give, O Lord, rest to Thy servant Theodosius, that rest Thou has prepared for Thy saints … I loved him, therefore will I follow him to the land of the living, I will not leave him till by my prayers and lamentations he shall be admitted unto the holy mount of the Lord, to which his deserts call him.”

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