It was a perfect day. Pleasantly warm. Bright sun. Subtle breeze. Funerals rarely end up on dreary, rainy days like they do in the movies.
I walked toward the church, took a deep breath, opened the door, and walked inside. Immediately I was met by the loud din. People were everywhere, talking and laughing.
My grieving soul was bewildered. Did I walk into the wrong church?
My friend had died just a few days ago. Taken so young. I had watched her battle the brain tumor, and I had come to see her commended to God. My purpose was to attend her funeral, not mingle at an afternoon get-together.
I hurried through the crowd, went into the sanctuary, and sat down heavily in a pew. I sighed.
A time to mourn, and a time to dance... (Ecclesiastes 3:4)
I walked into a celebration of life.
It is a trend in Catholic funerals these days. We celebrate the amazing actions and virtues of our deceased loved ones, and rejoice in now having an angel in Heaven. I have heard this sentiment many times.
As comforting as it is to visualize our loved one as an angel in Heaven, there actually are two concerns here:
1. We don’t become angels.
We are humans, which means we do not become angels when we get to Heaven. That would be a terrible tragedy, since angels are pure spirits, and we both spirit and body. If we became angels, we could not be reunited with our bodies at the end of time when our bodies are resurrected. We are incredibly blessed and unique from the angels because we are both spirit and flesh. Like Jesus. Let’s not throw that reality away.
2. We might not go straight to Heaven.
We often see the misconception that our loved ones go straight to Heaven. There are amazingly holy people who die and do go directly to Heaven. But that is because they let God work so completely and utterly in their lives that they are wholly purified and ready for the Beatific Vision.
For those of us who need more purification and unification to Christ, we have the gift of Purgatory. All who enter Purgatory are assured of eternal salvation in Heaven, but still have certain imperfections and attachments, whether to people, possessions, position, or other worldly things. These separate us from God and prevent us from experiencing the complete and utter joy God plans for us in Heaven (see CCC 1030-1032).
Yes, we have an obligation to ourselves and our loves ones to properly mourn and heal. One way that we do that is to share memories, laugh and cry over old photographs and videos, and celebrate the incredible blessing this person was in our lives.
But we are called to do much more than celebrate the lives our loved ones lived on earth.
Why Do We Pray for the Dead?
We pray for the dead because we want to help our loved ones get to Heaven.
Many of our loved ones go to Purgatory to fully prepare us for Heaven. But since Purgatory is a time of purification and cleansing from our earthly attachments, it is probably not an enjoyable place. We often refer to the suffering of Purgatory, as even though there is a joyful hope of reaching Heaven, the poor souls there still feel the acute pain of their separation from God.
Our prayers can help shorten their time in Purgatory. Our prayers can more quickly bring them to the eternal embrace of God in Heaven. How beautiful!
That is why we pray for the dead.
God, in His infinite goodness, wants us to participate in others’ salvation. He doesn’t need us to, but He loves us so much that He wants to collaborate with us on the path to Heaven.
Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin. -2 Maccabees 12:45b
I Want People to Pray for Me...
I have told my husband multiple times that at my funeral, I want everyone on their knees, begging God to open the gates of Heaven for me. As a child, I asked God to let me have my Purgatory here on earth. I know I am experiencing that suffering to a certain degree. But I also know there is still a lot of work to be done on my soul, so I will likely spend time in Purgatory. But my friends and family can help me on that journey with their prayers. So when I die, you can celebrate me later. Please first pray for the repose of my soul. Pray that I get to Heaven to be with my Beloved forever.
How Can We Pray for the Dead?
Helping our loved ones get to Heaven is a beautiful task. Here are just a few ways you can pray for the dead.
Anointing of the Sick.
So much grace, forgiveness, and even healing, can come from receiving this sacrament. If a loved one is nearing death, or even undergoing a serious procedure, consider asking a priest to come administer last rites. If someone dies without receiving this sacrament, you can still ask a priest to administer it.
The funeral Mass comforts family and friends and formally commends the soul of our loved one to God. Graces will abound.
All Souls’ Day.
On November 2, we remember everyone who has died. It is a tradition in the Catholic Church to visit a cemetery on that day. It is even possible to receive an indulgence for souls in Purgatory by doing so. (An indulgence removes some or all of the time spent in Purgatory. In order to receive the indulgence, you are asked to be detached from sin, go to Confession, receive Holy Communion, and pray for the pope.)
You may recall hearing intentions at Mass for people who have died, ether before Mass begins or during the intercessions. This is a great way to receive prayers for your loved one from your parish community.
Light a Candle.
Most Catholic churches have shrines of Mary, Jesus, and the Saints with candles you can light. This is a beautiful way to ask for their intercession for your loved one.
Pray the Rosary.
The Rosary is one of the most powerful prayers available to us. It is particularly powerful in praying for the dead. Each Hail Mary even ends with asking for grace in death: “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
You can make a special effort to pray for your loved one on the anniversary of his or her death. You could visit the grave and offer special prayers on that day.
Offer it Up.
Our days are filled many little trials and sufferings. We can offer these pains for our loved ones. When something happens, we can say something like, “Jesus, I offer You this pain for this person.”
Keep photographs of your deceased loved ones in your home. Every time you see them, offer a quick prayer for them.
Entrust the Dead to God's Mercy
Our God is an incredibly merciful and loving God. He longs to be with each of us. He welcomes our prayers for the dead, and He will certainly reward them.
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Jennifer Miller is a wife, mother, writer, and lover of all things Catholic. She has been blessed to work in Catholic media and publishing since 2012, including roles at Our Sunday Visitor and Dynamic Catholic, where she led the development and execution of Best Advent Ever and Best Lent Ever (which have reached more than 1 million people). She also blogs regularly for the Ten Ten Group. When she's not writing and spending time with her family, you can find Jennifer swimming, drinking bourbon, or offering constructive criticism on any ad she sees. You can learn more about her here.