Do You Know Why We Pray for the Dead? The Meaning of Purgatory

11-08-2020Weekly Reflection

More and more people are neglecting to have Masses offered for the deceased members for their families or even a funeral Mass! The reasons for this are sometimes a loss of faith about the afterlife or the fact that many people assume their deceased are in heaven. Some clergy preach at funeral Masses that the deceased person is in heaven, which (except in the case of canonized saints and baptized infants/children who have not attained the use of reason) is a serious departure from Catholic doctrine. In a response to this crisis the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on May 17, 1979 noted the following: The Church excludes every way of thinking or speaking that would render meaningless or unintelligible her prayers, her funeral rites and the religious acts offered for the dead. Prayer for the dead is one of the Spiritual Acts of Mercy which is part of love of neighbor.

Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven –through a purification, or immediate and everlasting damnation. CCC #1022. Those who die in God’s grace and friendship AND are perfectly purified live forever with Christ in the life of heaven. Those who die in God’s grace and friendship but still imperfectly purified will go to heaven after they have undergone the purification of Purgatory. St. John of the Cross reminds us: At the end you will be examined on your love. Strive to love as God desires to be loved and abandon your present state. (His Sayings, #59) How does God desire to be loved? He’s told us: You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. Matt 22

Recently Cardinal Willem Eijk, Cardinal-Archbishop of Utrect, pointed to St. John Henry Newman’s The Dream of Gerontius to explain purification after death called Purgatory. The death of a man is described after receiving the sacraments. The man’s soul with the faculties of understanding, free will, and memory is separated from his body. The man’s guardian angel leads him to Jesus, where it is granted him to see for an instant Jesus’ eyes filled with love. In that moment the man realizes he is not capable of beholding that love for all eternity and asks for purification. This is granted to him and he is led by his angel to Purgatory. This recalls the incident involving Jesus and St. Peter. Jesus tells Peter to go out to the deep water and fish. Peter acts on the Lord’s word after telling Jesus they fished all night and caught nothing. The Gospel records after the catching an astounding number of fish that Peter could not sustain the look of Jesus and drops to his knees saying to Him: Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man. Cardinal Eijk also reminds us a human being is capable of refusing the gaze of Jesus and he or she is left to the love/s they have chosen in place of the Lord. That separation is the state of Hell, eternal separation from God.

Masses are offered for our brothers and sisters being purified to assist them in their purification since we belong to the same family of Christ and the “holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. CCC #1475. This also involves the exchange of spiritual goods which derive chiefly from the Sacrifice of the Mass which is the same sacrifice as Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Recall that all sin has two consequences it either kills (mortal sin) or weakens (venial sin) the life of grace which is our union with God the Blessed Trinity. Even after forgiveness that sin leaves a wound. This wound is the unhealthy attachment to creatures which must be purified. In other words, our love for God must be purified of rival loves which exist in opposition to Him and harm our relation with Him. Hence it is important that we pray for our deceased daily, offer sacrifices and indulgences for them, and assist them by having Masses offered for the repose of their souls. This prayer for the dead includes the possibility of gaining indulgences for them.

An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven, which the faithful Christian, duly disposed, can gain under certain prescribed conditions. It is either plenary or partial. The temporal punishment due to sin is an unhealthy attachment to creatures, the tendency to do the sin again.

We do not go it alone in our need to make up for our sins. Every Christian is joined to Christ but he or she is joined to all the other Christians who make up the Body of Christ, the family of the Church including those being purified in Purgatory and the angels and saints in heaven. Hence there is an everlasting link of love which joins all Christians together. In this exchange the holiness of one profits the other.

This holiness includes Christ’s merits and all the spiritual goods of the all the members of Christ’s Body especially the prayers and good works of the Virgin Mary and the saints. They are truly immense and pristine in their value before God. The Church through her power to bind and loose in Christ’s name through an indulgence gives the Christian a special share in the holiness of the treasury of the Church to help heal his or her own wounds from sin but also to be applied to those of our family who are being purified in the afterlife in the state called purgatory.

Hence indulgences involve shared love flowing from the mercy of God which heals.

The plenary indulgence heals all the wounds of our sins. The partial indulgences heal those wounds partially. Every day in our morning-prayer we should make the intention to God to gain any and all indulgences attached to our prayer, devotion, and good works. The Church grants indulgences for various activities or special occasions. A book called The Enchiridion of Indulgences contains many of the grants of indulgences to benefit the spiritual lives of Catholics. For example a plenary indulgence was granted for the public praying of the prayer Veni Creator Spiritus on January 1. However many Catholics (most?) don’t know about indulgences and/or why they are important for our spiritual lives. Sad to say indulgences are rarely preached about or referenced by the clergy. Nevertheless indulgences are part of the Catholic Faith and they form part of the instruction on the sacrament of confession. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1471 and following.) Recall that in approaching the sacrament of Confession three acts of the penitent are involved:

***Due to the pandemic: the faithful can gain a plenary indulgence for the faithful departed on any particular day during the whole month of November, for the total of eight days by visiting the cemetery and there praying at least mentally for the deceased person. The eight days do NOT have to be consecutive. To gain a plenary indulgence there are the following conditions:

1. Contrition whereby the penitent expresses sorrow for sin.

(NOTE: Perfect contrition arises from a love by which God is loved above all else. This forgives venial sins and it forgives mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to get to confession as soon as possible. Imperfect contrition is sorrow because of the ugliness of sin and the fear of punishment. This does not obtain the forgiveness of mortal sins but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in Confession.)

2. The confession of sins whereby all mortal sins must be recounted by number and kind to a priest.

(NOTE: The confession of venial sins is strongly recommended by the Church. This helps to form the conscience, to fight against our evil tendencies. This gives healing from Christ and we progress in the life of the Holy Spirit. This is called a confession of devotion.)

3. Making satisfaction is the third act of the penitent.

All sins even after forgiveness leave a wound. Absolution does not take away all the disorder sin has caused: harm to self and to neighbor. This must be healed in this life or in the life to come. This is why the penitent receives a penance from the priest in order to aid in the process of healing the wound of sin. To help heal the wound of sin the Church makes available indulgences to us.

4. Be free from all attachment to sin even venial sin.

5. Pray for the Pope.