Grace to you!
Today, the Catholic Church celebrates All Souls. It’s a day we remember and pray in a special way for all the faithful who have passed; those who died marked with the sign of faith. We, as believers, want to keep the memory of those people and to connect spiritually with them while asking for God’s grace of mercy and purification on their behalf.
During yesterday’s reflection, I shared some thoughts about All Saints, those who are already in heaven. I also echoed the Church’s teaching that believers on earth are in spiritual communion with those in heaven (Church Triumphant), and those who have died, en route to heaven, those under the purifying grace and mercy of God – what we Catholics call Purgatory. So the feast of All Saints makes our celebration of the cycle of this spiritual relationship complete.
The cycle is a memory, a spiritual connection between the Saints on earth, the Saints in heaven, and the dead Saints in transit. Should we lose memories of those souls? Is it out of order to connect with them? Definitely not.
Actually, praying for the dead is biblical and consistent with Judeo-Christian Theology. 2 Maccabees 12 talks about sacrifice offerings for the dead so God will show them mercy. Though Protestants reject the canonicity of this book as part of the bible, it is an authentic Jewish historical book. For us Catholics, it is part of the Bible.
Purgatory is a colorful concept derived from the Latin word Purgare (purgatorius, purgatorium)—which means, “to purify” (purifying). So, the Church believes that at death, when no one else could help oneself, the grace of God, the grace of purification takes over. Analogical to Pauline teaching about judgment and the purification by fire which some would pass before they are saved (I Corinthians 3:11-15), purgatory reflects that experience of purification by fire.
Thus, Purgatory is not a place like a safe-house after death or a location somewhere in the space where souls are kept waiting for heaven; instead, it is a spiritual state during which divine purification (thanks to the grace and mercy of God) cleanses a soul, making the person holy for God; a purification without which the person can’t see God. Remember that the Bible says nothing unholy [impure] can enter heaven (Revelation 21:27).
Why do we pray for the dead over and over again? Isn’t one prayer or one Mass enough?
I recall when I argued with my Mom, (forgive me, it isn’t the right thing to do) about praying for a sick person in the hospital. She wanted more and more prayers offered for that woman. Whereas I thought, Mom, I have prayed enough for this. She advised me that I couldn’t pray enough; no prayer is wasted. See in that story an imagery similar to our usual understanding of the value of prayer.
We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper and the Lord Jesus Christ wants us to share in the spiritual wellbeing of the saints. Our prayers for the dead are our Christian sacrificial offerings on their behalf. God listens. Graces overflow because of the prayer of the saints as well.
God has given us the privilege to be part of the grace-moment for the saints. Our prayers could do that miracle of saving a soul. Who would not love to be associated with being part of the heaven-story, of final homecoming of the dead? I would.
Moreover, we pray for them so we may have peace with the situation. Praying for the dead brings closure to them, as well as to us. It helps them as it helps us. After praying for the repose of my loved ones, I feel peace within my soul, which assures me I am doing the right thing. This is not some mere emotional satisfaction, it happens deep within the soul and I know it.
When my youngest brother died, I had peace with his death after I offered nine days Mass intention for his soul. There are many testimonies like this and tons of books written about testimonies concerning prayer for souls in Purgatory.
Since we do not know who is in heaven and who is not, except the canonized Saints; and since we do not know how long it takes from the last hours of purification to glory—in eternity, there is no time and space—let’s be generous with our prayers. Remember, after death, there is no more concept of time, we belong to eternity where there is no morning or night, and before the Lord, the bible says, a thousand years is like yesterday come and gone (Psalm 90:4).
Let’s keep the prayers coming for the souls in the state of purification. Keep in mind that no prayer offered in memory of our loved ones is a waste. Those prayers help us. They help our departed brothers and sisters. They help many who have no one to pray for them. They help you too, who have lost a loved one.
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.