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
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
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"
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
website (off-site. Will open in new browser window).
For information on the Purgatorian Archconfraternity, write to:
Golgotha Monastery Island
Papa Stronsay, KW17 2AR
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 (this custom was adopted by
Jews in the Middle Ages; they call it "Jahrzeit" 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:
grant unto him/her (them), O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon him/her
(them). May he/she (they) rest in peace. Amen.
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
Agimus tibi gratias,
omnipotens Deus, pro universis beneficiis tuis, qui vivis et regnas in saecula
saeculorum. Fidelium animae, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace.
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.
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 deprecationes meae.
If Thou, Lord,
shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
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.
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: specret 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. Because of the desire to unite the prayer with the merits
of the Mass, it is most powerful:
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
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 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:
Hallows' Eve: 31 October, the day on which we unofficially recall
the realities of Hell and how to avoid it;
Saints Day, or All Hallows' Day: 1 November, the day on which we
officially honor God's Saints of the Church Triumphant; and
Souls Day: 2 November, the day on which we officially commemorate
and pray for all the faithful departed of the Church Suffering.
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
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.