From the Pastor – November 10, 2019

“That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out ‘Lord,’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” (Lk 20:37-38)

By tradition, the Church dedicates November to prayer for the Poor Souls in Purgatory, those faithful Christians who have died and gone before us but who still must atone for their sins. The time they spend in Purgatory cleanses them so that they may enter Heaven free from the effects of the sin they might have committed in life.

Church doctrine on purgatory is based on the Old Testament reading in 2 Maccabees 12:40-46, where prayers were offered for those who had died in battle.  Praying for the dead has been a constant practice of Christians since the 1st century, as evidenced by myriads of inscriptions in the Catacombs and other places where Christian bodies were buried. Further, virtually all of the ancient liturgies of the Church contain prayers for the dead. For those who deny the existence of purgatory, the question is: “If there’s only a Heaven (where people don’t need our prayers), and a Hell (where people can’t be helped by our prayers), why have we prayed for the dead since the time of Christ?

Praying for the dead, especially for people we’ve known, isn’t “optional”; it’s a requirement of Christian charity.  Our own prayers and sacrifices can be offered up to relieve their suffering.

One of the most commonly recited of Catholic prayers in times past is the “Requiem aeternam.” This prayer has fallen into disuse in the last few decades, although it still echoes in our ears.  When I was working in the Vatican, we said this prayer every day after the Angelus, and I still say it after meals.  In English the prayer goes:  Eternal rest grant unto 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. Of course we can substitute “him” or “her” or a person’s name in place of “them.”

Prayer for the dead, however, is one of the greatest acts of charity we can perform, to help them during their time in Purgatory, so that they can enter more quickly into the fullness of heaven.

(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty