Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth


``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


Praying for the Dead


St. Teresa of Avila Interceding for the Souls in Purgatory, from the workshop of Peter Paul Reubens, 1577–1640


II Maccabees 12:43-46: "And making a gathering, he [Judas] sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection, (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,) And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins."

 
 
Those who've died in a state of grace are not truly "dead"; they are our beloved in Heaven or in Purgatory (on their way to Heaven) and will forever be, world without end, part of the Communion of Saints -- the Church Triumphant (the Saints in Heaven, whether or not they are beatified or canonized), the Church Suffering (the saints in Purgatory), and the Church Militant (the saints on earth).

Because we can't know, aside from those the Church has beatified or canonized, who is already in Heaven, who is in Purgatory for a time, or who is damned, we pray for the dead for the rest of our lives -- assuming they are in Purgatory, while hoping they are in Heaven and not damned.

We also ask those who've died to pray for us. While those whom the Church has deemed to be of the Church Triumphant (the canonized Saints) are in Heaven for certain and are, therefore, in no need of our prayers for them, we've always asked for them to pray for us. As to the Church Suffering in Purgatory, Aquinas teaches that they are not able to know, by themselves, our prayers; however, it is piously believed, and taught by St. Alphonsus Liguori, that God makes our prayers known to them -- not directly, as they are deprived of the Beatific Vision until they enter Heaven, but by infusing this knowledge into their souls. St. Bellarmine teaches that because the Church Suffering is so close to God -- much closer than we are and having the great consolation of knowing they are saved -- their prayers for us are very effective. So, as you pray for your dead loved ones, ask them to pray for you, too!

As to the damned, there is no hope; no prayer can help them and we can't pray formally for those in Hell. The problem, of course, is that we can't know who is damned, and so we pray generally for "all the faithful departed." For those who've died outside of visible Communion with Christ's Church or for those Catholics who've died seemingly without repentance and in scandal, public prayer cannot be offered, but we can most certainly still pray privately with the hope that they've died in a state of grace (i.e., those who are denied a Catholic funeral can't be prayed for liturgically, publicly, but they can most definitely be prayed for -- and should be prayed for -- privately). Priests can even offer Masses for such people privately, without naming them.

 
Liturgical Prayer
for the Dead

Masses on the 3rd, 7th, and 30th Days and on Anniversaries

In addition to the prayers said just after death, and the prayers of the funeral Mass, it is Catholic practice to have Masses said for the departed on the 3rd, 7th, and 30th days after the death or burial. When tallying the dates for such Masses, one starts counting the day after the date of death or burial as day one. That is, for example, if someone were to die on May 1st and be buried on May 3rd, the Mass said for him on the 7th day should be offered on May 8th (the 7th day after death) or May 10th (the 7th day after the date of burial). Masses are also offered on the anniversaries of the date of death, but these are celebrated on the same date -- i.e., one who dies on May 1, 2005 will have a Mass said on May 1, 2006.

Masses for the dead have infinite value, in the objective order, for the souls of the departed. They also have great subjective value for those who survive in that it is comforting to know that Masses are being offered for one's departed loved ones. So, while the bereaved can arrange such Masses, others, even non-Catholics, can arrange with a priest to have such Masses said, too, which would be a great gift of comfort to survivors (stole fees for such Masses are usually $5 to $10 dollars, depending on the diocese). Such Masses don't necessarily have to be offered in the diocese(s) of the deceased or bereaved; any priest, anywhere in the world, can be asked to offer a Mass for someone (note to non-Catholics: traditional Catholics would be most comforted, or only comforted, by a traditional Mass being offered, depending on how they view the Novus Ordo Mass. So be safe and arrange such things with a traditional priest.).

In any case, it is customary to let the bereaved know you've asked that a Mass be said by sending him a "Mass Card." A Mass Card is much like a greeting card, but with a place to write in the intentions of a requested Mass, the name of the person who arranged the Mass, and, sometimes, the name of the priest who will be offering the Mass. Your church, chapel, or funeral home might have Mass Cards to send, but, if not, you can get them from Catholic gift shops and stationers, too. (Note that Mass Cards aren't only sent to notify people of Masses for their dead loved ones, though this is their most common use; they can be sent to notify someone about Masses offered for other intentions, too, but Mass Cards for the Dead and Mass Cards for the Living are usually decorated very differently).

Masses for the Dead can be offered at almost any time, not only on the days mentioned above. At any time throughout the year after death of a loved one, and also in the years to come, a Catholic would consider it a very beautiful thing to receive a Mass Card letting him know that a Mass is being said for someone he misses. Most importantly, though, aside from the "gift" aspect of offering Masses for a friend's dead relatives, the soul of the departed would receive the benefits of the greatest prayers of the Church and the infinite value of the offering of the Son to the Father for the remission of sins!

 
Purgatorian Archconfraternity

Another thing to consider for yourself and your loved ones is to enroll in the Purgatorian Archconfraternity -- an organization for whose members, living or dead, Mass is offered.

The Purgatorian Archconfraternity began with a group of Redemptorist Fathers in 1840, headquartered at the Church of S. Maria Monterone in Rome. Their group was raised by Pope Gregory XVI to the status of an Archconfraternity in 1841. After the Second Vatican Council, things went awry with the Archconfraternity as they did with everything else, but the Archconfraternity has been restored by the Transalpine Redemptorist Fathers who live in Golgotha Monastery on the little island of Papa Stronsay, in Orkney, North of Scotland (see video of these monks off the "Fun Stuff" page).

Once enrolled in the Archconfraternity, the traditional Latin Mass will be offered for you or your loved ones, as members of the group, living or dead, every day (except for those days when only one priest is available, or on those days when no Masses are ever offered, such as Good Friday, etc.). The Rosary will be prayed each Monday for dead members. If a living member of the Archconfraternity dies, a special Mass will be offered for him as soon as the priests are notified. One may enroll for a year or for a lifetime, as a single individual or as a family (parents and children). Living members should also try to assist the souls in Purgatory through their prayers and works, especially through the Mass, and should spread this devotion to others, but no obligations bind one under the pain of sin.

The daily Masses and weekly Rosaries offered by the island priests will continue until Jesus comes again, God willing, as long as there are at least three priests on Papa Stronsay. If ever there were two priests, the Masses would be offered weekly. If there were to ever be one priest, obligations would cease -- but vocations are booming. See the Papa Stronsay website (off-site. Will open in new browser window).

For information on the Purgatorian Archconfraternity, write to:

Purgatorian Archconfraternity
Golgotha Monastery Island
Papa Stronsay, KW17 2AR
Orkney, Scotland

 
Private Prayer
for the Dead

 
In addition to having a Mass said on the anniversary of a loved one's death as mentioned above, there exists an old Christian custom of fasting, burning a candle for 24 hours, and praying for them on this day and on future anniversaries of the loved one's death (this custom was adopted by Jews in the Middle Ages; they call it "Jahrzeit" -- also spelled "Yahrzeit" --  as did the medieval German Christians.) Any orthodox traditional or improvised prayer can be prayed at this time, but the Rosary is always appropriate and can be prayed now (or any time) for the dead, offered in the same way it is at Catholic funerals -- i.e., with the Fatima Prayer replaced by the Eternal Rest Prayer. The Eternal Rest prayer is also prayed by itself, offered any time for the dead, when visiting grave sites, and when passing cemeteries. It is a prayer every Catholic should know by heart:

Eternal rest grant unto him/her (them), O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon him/her (them). May he/she (they) rest in peace. Amen.

 

Réquiem ætérnam dona ei (eis) Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat ei (eis). Requiéscat (Requiéscant) in pace. Amen.

 
We also pray for our dead every time we eat if we pray the After Meal Blessing, another prayer every Catholic should know by heart:

 

We give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits, O Almighty God, Who livest and reignest forever. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

   

Agimus tibi gratias, omnipotens Deus, pro universis beneficiis tuis, qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum. Fidelium animae, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace. Amen.

 
The Penitential Psalms -- i.e., Psalms 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, 142 -- are also prayed for the dead, especially the 129th Psalm, known as De Profundis (Out of the Depths):
 

Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord: Lord hear my voice.


De profúndis clamávi ad te, Dómine: Dómine, exáudi vocem meam.

Let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.


Fiant aures tuae intendéntes: in vocem deprecationis meae.

If Thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?


Si iniquitátes observaveris, Dómine: Dómine, quis sustinébit.

But there is forgiveness with Thee: because of Thy law I wait for Thee, O Lord.


Quia apud te propitiátio est: et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Dómine.

My soul waiteth on His word: my soul hopeth in the Lord.


Sustinuit ánima mea in verbo ejus: sperávit ánima mea in Dómino.

From the morning watch even until night let Israel hope in the Lord:

   

A custodia matutina usque ad noctem: speret Israel in Dómino.

For with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plentiful redemption.


Quia apud Dóminum misericordia: et copiósa apud eum redémptio.

And He shall redeem Israel, from all their iniquities.


Et ipse redimet Israel, ex ómnibus iniquitátibus ejus.

 
The Prayer of St. Gertrude the Great

Another prayer Catholics should be familiar with is that of St. Gertrude the Great (A.D. 1256-1301/2), who was told by Our Lord in a private revelation, that when the following prayer is prayed earnestly, 1,000 souls will be released from Purgatory. This is not an official Catholic teaching, mind you, and the revelation may have only applied to St. Gertrude's prayers; but the prayer is a good one nonetheless. Because of the desire to unite the prayer with the merits of the Mass, it is most powerful:

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood Of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the Universal Church, those in my own home and within my own family. Amen.

 
Heroic Act of Charity
 
An "Heroic Act of Charity" is the offering of the satisfactory value (not the merits) of all of our sufferings and works of our rest of our lives and of any time we may spend in Purgatory for the relief of the souls in Purgatory. We do this by first deciding to do so, and then praying (using our own words or the more formal prayer below) to offer these things to God through Mary's hands.

Doing this is not a matter of taking a vow; it doesn't bind under pain of sin, and it is revokable (unless one vows never to revoke the Act). But it is a tremendous sacrifice, hence the name. It is truly heroic, a giving up of one's own earned relief from the temporal effects of sin -- even relief of the sufferings of Purgatory -- for the good of others.

In addition to asking God to use their satisfactory works for the souls in Purgatory, those who make this Act also receive a plenary indulgence (under the usual conditions) for the souls in Purgatory each time they receive Communion, and each time they hear Mass on Mondays for the sake of the departed. Words to a formal Act of Heroic Charity are as follows:

O Holy and Adorable Trinity, desiring to aid in the relief and release of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, through my devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, I cede and renounce, on behalf of these souls, all the satisfactory part of my works, and all the suffrages which may be given to me after my death. In their entirety, I offer them to Mary, the Most Holy Mother of God, that she may use them, according to her good pleasure, for those souls of the faithful departed whom she desires to alleviate their suffering. O my God, deign to accept and bless my offering which I make to Thee through the most august Queen of Heaven and Earth. Amen.

 
The Days of the Dead

The entire month of November is devoted to the Poor Souls in Purgatory, and Rosaries for the dead are offered during this time (with the Eternal Rest prayer replacing the Fatima prayer as above). The month-long devotion to the Souls in Purgatory begins with the three consecutive "Days of the Dead" at the end of October and early November:

The Days of the Dead are:

  • All Hallows' Eve: 31 October, the day on which we unofficially recall the realities of Hell and how to avoid it;
     

  • All Saints Day, or All Hallows' Day: 1 November, the day on which we officially honor God's Saints of the Church Triumphant; and
     

  • All Souls Day: 2 November, the day on which we officially commemorate and pray for all the faithful departed of the Church Suffering.

Some Catholics might pray a Novena for the Holy Souls, the All Souls Novena, or some other such Novena beginning on 24 October and ending on All Saints Day (the eve All Souls Day). Then, after sunset on All Saints Day, we light a candle (preferably one that that had been blessed at Candlemas) and pray the Rosary for the dead. The next day, 2 November, being All Souls Day, we can offer public prayer for the dead by attending one of the three Masses offered for the dead on that day. We also visit the graves of our family members, seeking those special indulgences for them that are only offered on All Souls Day and during the Octave of All Saints:

  • A plenary indulgence, applicable only to the souls in Purgatory, may be gained on the 2nd by making a pious visit to a church to pray a Pater and the Creed, and
     

  • A plenary indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, may also be gained fron 1 November to 8 November by visiting loved ones' graves and praying the Eternal Rest prayer for their peace.

(For more information on the customs associated with
the Days of the Dead, see the Seasonal Customs page)

We are not limited to indulgences for the dead on these Days of the Dead, however. Indulgenced works, prayer, votive offerings, alms-giving, etc., may always be offered for the dead, at any time of the year.

Note that those in Purgatory are also especially remembered on Ember Days. Also note that because those in Purgatory are no longer under the jurisdiction of the Church Militant, all the above prayers, indulgences, and works for the dead are offered by way of beseeching God to apply them for the relief of the Church Suffering.


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