From the Pastor – November 6, 2011

“We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thess. 4:13-14)

One of the more obvious jobs of a pastor is presiding over liturgical events, whether it’s Sunday Masses, weddings or funerals. I mentioned a few weeks ago that we were currently in the fall New Orleans wedding season, during which I have at least one wedding every weekend. But I’ve also provided over a few funerals recently. Although most people understand the purpose of a funeral, sometimes some people don’t. They might call it a “celebration of a person’s life.” While I am always happy that someone led a holy, exemplary life, what do you do in the event that the person had a difficult life? Or what happens if the person even took their own lives?

We have to remember that there are three purposes to a funeral: (1) to mourn together; (2) to be consoled by the Gospel message of hope; and (3) to pray for the soul of the deceased person. The biggest problem with a “celebration of a person’s life” is that it tends to focus on past, earthly events. And if the person’s life was so good, why should we worry that they might be in Purgatory?

The Catholic Church dedicates each month of the year to a specific devotion. In November, that decotion is the Poor Souls in Purgatory – those faithful Christians who have died but who still must atone for their sins. The time they spend in Purgatory cleanses them so that they may enter Heaven free from all of the effects of sin.

Praying for the dead, especially for deceased friends and relatives, is a necessary part of Christian charity. Our own prayers and sacrifices can relieve their suffering.

In the past, one of the most commonly recited Catholic prayers was the Requiem aeternam, a prayer that has fallen into disuse in the last few decades. In Englis 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. Amen.”

Look, I hope my Dad went straight to Heaven! And I remember so many great stories about his life, too! But what kind of a son would I be if I arrived in Purgatory to find that he was still there because I didn’t help him out with my own prayers?

Prayer for the dead is one of the greatest acts of charity we can perform. Use the month of November to pray for your deceased relatives and friends. We want to help them enter more quickly into the fullness of Heaven. And when they get there, they can pray that we will join them!

(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty