I am writing and posting my Thursday blog post the evening before, as I will be en route early tomorrow morning to the annual March for Life in Ottawa. I hope I see some of you there.
In our journey through the Mass we are coming to the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, and have reached the following:
Remember also, Lord, your servants N. and N., who have gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace. Grant them, O Lord, we pray, and all who sleep in Christ, a place of refreshment, light, and peace.
We pray for the dead in every Mass. Every time we come before the throne of God to lift up our hearts in worship, adoration, and intercession, we mention those who have died, that God may show them mercy. What is that about?
Well, we pray for the dead because they need our prayers. Not the deceased who have entered the realm of heaven—we need their prayers. Not the deceased (please God, in Your Mercy, be they few in number) who are in eternal damnation of Hell—our prayers are futile for them.
But for the dead who are undergoing their final purification, the last cleansing of God’s merciful love for them necessary before they can enter the kingdom of light and love. Anything in us—no matter how small and trivial—that partakes of darkness and selfishness must be purged from our souls. And so, Purgatory, the great gift of God’s mercy to humanity.
It is a work of mercy par excellence to pray for the souls of the faithful departed. And at every Mass we remember them in particular. In part this is because the Mass is the greatest offering of prayer there is, where the Church unites itself to Christ’s own intercession for humanity before the Father.
It is also because the Mass is, essentially, the worship of Heaven come down to earth. The saints in heaven—the Church Triumphant—are gathered around the Lamb as He offers to His Father the sacrifice He made (cf. Rev 5). We on earth—the Church Militant—are gathered around the altar of God as Christ in the person of the priest makes this same offering to God and extends to us its fruits in the gift of Holy Communion.
But there is a part of the Church who cannot participate in this Mass, this offering, this worship—the Church Suffering, the souls in Purgatory. Perhaps that alone is the great suffering of Purgatory—who knows? So we remember them in our prayers and ask God to quickly restore them to the fullness of communion that we enjoy at the liturgy.
At any rate, the simple fact that virtually every Mass includes prayers for these people should signal to us that the Church considers praying for them among the most important duties of love a person can do. And so let’s be careful not to forget this, not to fall into the easy attitude of assuming that everyone who dies slides right into Heaven with no problem—an odd idea that has no basis whatsoever in Catholic theology or doctrine.
No, the dead need our prayers. We will soon enough be among them ourselves and so we better promote praying for the dead for reasons of naked self-interest if no other. And above all, let us pray that every human being comes to death in a state of grace, with final perseverance and final repentance, so that all of us can happily gather around the banquet of the Lamb at last in a joyful feast that has no end.