02 November 2008 - All Souls
The Catholic practice of praying for the dead originates in Sacred Scripture and from the Church's living tradition.
You may recall that while He was on earth, Jesus corrected the Pharisees and others for false practices but He said nothing to correct them when they prayed for the dead.
In fact Jesus Himself along with Martha and Mary, prayed for His friend Lazarus who was already 4 days dead in the tomb.
Since praying for the dead was already a tradition of the Jews, the first Christians had no doubt that praying for the dead was part of their earthly vocation, especially when they gathered for Mass. Why pray for the dead?
The twenty-fifth session of the Council of Trent taught: I quote "purgatory exists. and that the souls detained there are helped by the prayers of the faithful and most of all by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar.
We thus come together in the Eucharist to pray for the dead because such prayer within the Mystical Body hastens and assists our dead who are being graciously purified of all they refused to let go of while on earth.” Unquote
We see therefore the practice of praying for the dead enforced in the ancient Hebrew church and in the Jewish synagogue of today. We see it proclaimed age after age by all the Fathers of Christendom.
We see it incorporated in every one of the ancient Liturgies of the East and of the West.
We see it zealously taught by the Russian church of today, and by that immense family of schismatic Christians scattered over the East.
We see it as a cherished devotion of three hundred millions of Catholics, as well as of a respectable portion of the Episcopal church.
It was the protestant reformers who first believed that praying for the dead was unbiblical but now we have some Catholics who also refuse to believe in purgatory even though it is a dogma of the church and must be believed by all Catholics who wish to remain in full communion.
Why would some of us prefer a private opinion that purgatory does not exist compared to this immense weight of learning, sanctity and authority who through the ages has proclaimed that indeed it does exist?
I have found it easy to teach this dogma to young children because children don’t seem to have any problem with understanding the concept nor do they reject the teaching out of hand – rather they accept it.
I think it’s because they find this teaching reasonable but then again they never seem to have any problem with understanding any teaching of the church.
It seems that children accept and understand Jesus’ teachings a lot sooner than adults do - this should not surprise us because today’s Gospel does say:
I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants;
Time and again Father and I have encountered young children who not only understand the gospel message but make it clear by their answers that their understanding is quite in line with the official teaching of the church throughout the ages.
We adults would do well to listen to the voices of the children when it comes to the teachings of Christ.
Because is it not foolish of those who do not believe, to stand aside with sealed lips while the rest of the Christian world is sending up an unceasing prayer for their departed brethren?
Do you think a child would be so arrogant?
Would it not be cold and heartless of any of us not to pray for our deceased friends, on account of our prejudices and opinions which have no grounds in Scripture, tradition or reason itself?
Do you think a child would be so heartless? Perhaps it could be that a child, unlike an adult, has not had a chance to improperly form their conscience and then conveniently close their ears and refuse to hear anything more on the subject because hearing the truth might conflict with the private interpretation of what we have conveniently come to believe.
Listening to the truth might cause their conscience to bother them wouldn’t it? And then they’d have to do something about it.
I think a child is wiser than that.
Look at it this way, if my brother leaves me to cross the Atlantic, religion and love for him prompt me to pray for him during his absence.
And if the same brother crosses the narrow sea of death to pass to the shores of eternity, why would I not pray for him then also?
When he crosses the Atlantic his soul, imprisoned in the flesh, is absent from me; but when he passes the sea of death his soul, released from the flesh, has also gone from me.
What difference does this make to my intercession on his behalf? For what is death? Death is a mere separation of body and soul. The body, indeed, dies, but the soul "lives and moves and has its being."
Those who have passed away are as alive today as they ever were. They hear and see us and are close to us.
It is we who have the veil across our eyes. And we shall see them all again – God willing that they are with Christ and we also end up with Him.
Our souls never die – we live forever.
And so life for the soul continues after death for all eternity, as before, to think, to remember, to love.
And does not God's dominion and mercy extend over that soul beyond the grave as well as this side of it?
Who am I to place the limits to God's empire and say to Him: "You go only so far and no farther?"
Two thousand years after Abraham's death our Lord said: "I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.
And of course all three of these guys were long, long gone from this earth. By this our Lord is telling us that He is not the “God of the dead, but of the living”.
So if it is good for me to pray for my brother while he is still alive in the flesh, why would anyone think that it would be useless for me to pray for him once he’s passed away from this life?
For while he was living I prayed not for his body, but for his soul. If this brother of mine dies with some slight stains upon his soul, a sin of impatience, for instance, or an idle word, is he fit to enter heaven with these blemishes upon his soul?
No; the sanctity of God forbids it, for "nothing defiled shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven."[Apoc. 21: 27.]
Will I send him then, for these small offenses, to eternal torments with adulterers and murderers? No; the justice and mercy of God forbid it.
Therefore, my common sense and simple logic demands that there must exist a middle place for cleansing of the soul before it is worthy of enjoying the companionship of God and His Saints.
Purgatory. So we see that the teaching of the Dogma of Purgatory is supported by Scripture, Tradition and our own common sense.
God has equipped kids with a lot of common sense so perhaps that is why they accept the teachings of the church more readily than adults do.
When have you heard an adult say “ I don’t understand this – but if God says so then I guess it is”. We hear children say this quite often.”
No wonder Jesus tells us that unless we become like little children we shall not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
That is not to say that we should not question. Of course we should. But sometimes it just takes faith.
God "will render to every man according to his works,"-- to the pure and unsullied everlasting bliss; to the reprobate eternal damnation; to souls stained with minor faults a place of temporary purgation.
This means those who are in Heaven don’t need our prayers, those who are hell – our prayers can’t help them – our prayers can only help those who are in purgatory.
I can’t bring to mind any Dogma of the Church more consoling to the human heart than the article of faith which teaches us the effectiveness of our prayers for the faithful departed.
It robs death of its sting. It surrounds our mourning with a rainbow of hope.
It softens the bitterness of our sorrow, and reconciles us to our loss.
It keeps us in touch with the departed dead just as much as correspondence keeps us in touch with the absent living.
It preserves their memory fresh and green in our hearts. We know they are always with us.
As for Purgatory ... Many English-speaking Christians (both Catholic and non-Catholic) are somehow under the ridiculous impression that it is some kind of medieval invention of the Church and not the ancient and consistent belief of Apostolic Christians.
It may not have been called purgatory from the very beginning but both Catholics and Jews have been praying for the repose of the souls of the dead from the very beginning.
We are members of the communion of saints, which includes all in Heaven and Purgatory, and all those living the Gospel on earth.
The Church invites us to pray and do penance for those in Purgatory, and to give alms to the poor and offer indulgences for the souls in Purgatory.
The Mass is even more important than indulgences.
Of all we can do to help those in Purgatory, there is nothing more precious than to offer the holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
This month we invite you to include the names of those of your dearly departed whom you wish to remember in our book of Rememberance here at St. Matthews.
During Mass we will remember all those included in the book for, as I said, there is no greater prayer we can offer for them than the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Imagine the joy of one day entering Heaven and having hundreds, per¬haps thousands of souls whose Purgatory we lessened by offering Mass¬es and indulgences, to greet us and thank us for our efforts.
And, certain¬ly the souls we have helped leave Purgatory and enter heaven are already praying for us while we are still here on earth.
Through our prayers, Masses, indulgences and other good works, "May the souls of the faith¬ful departed through the Mercy of Christ, rest in peace. Amen."
Deacon Bernard Ouellette