Our union with the Holy Souls is anchored in Jesus’ mercy

By Father James Walling –

A few years ago, when I was associate pastor in a parish in Kentucky, I visited a Protestant funeral service with a priest friend of mine. The deceased was a woman who used to practice the Catholic Faith, but had recently joined that Christian community.  The Protestant pastor, of course, knew about the woman’s background and I’m pretty sure I saw him do a double-look at us when we arrived wearing our clerical shirts.  Along with some sermonizing and eulogizing, the pastor made the emphatic statement, “…but, there is nothing we can do for her now!”  He repeated it and looked straight at us as he said it so that every word of it became a flaming dart. I half wanted to stand up and shout: “Yes there is!  ‘[Our] sufferings fill up in (our) flesh what is still lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his body, which is the church,’ (cf Col. 1:24)” -but I didn’t.

Have you ever noticed that during Mass, after the priest says the prayer over the gifts, everyone stands and actually does precisely what St. Paul’s words above imply?

Priest:  Pray brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.  People:  May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and for the good of all his holy Church.

Jesus Christ: priest and victim

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most powerful prayer we can offer for the deceased. At the Mass, Jesus is both priest and victim. At the Mass, He demonstrates the charity He referred to when He said, “There is no greater love than for one to lay down his life for the sake of his friends” (Jn 15:13). Based on the belief in the Communion of the Saints, our participation in the Charity of Christ makes the Mass effective for us; and, through the priestly action of Christ, our prayers for the deceased add suffrages, or graces, to the soul for whom we are praying.

The Jewish people clearly believed that the sins of the dead could be atoned for by the living. In the Book of Maccabees (2 Mc 12:39-46), prayers for the deceased is a praiseworthy action. The Apostles would have known about this concept and carried it forward in the Tradition of the Church, for St. Peter said that charity covers a multitude of sins (1 Pt 4:8).

The Catechism states:  “In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and ‘because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins’ she offers her suffrages for them.” Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective. (CCC 958)

In other words, the souls in purgatory cannot increase their merit, but that doesn’t mean they stop loving. They are very much engaged in acts of faith, hope and charity because God is the object of these supernatural virtues. Your deceased relatives are continuing to love you within the suffering Heart of Jesus and your prayers for them initiate the communication of certain spiritual goods.

Having Masses said for the deceased, and attending Mass on those days, is the primary way to help souls. Often people will send away for Masses to be said for the deceased, such as a novena of Masses, or enroll them in a Perpetual Mass Association, which is a beautiful way to honor the soul and bring comfort to the family (both of these options are offered at the Blue Army Shrine).

The Church encourages prayers for the dead by granting a plenary indulgence to the faithful who visit a cemetery on November 2, the feast of All Souls. Also, partial indulgences can be obtained through certain prayers said and works performed. A prayer most often invoked is after the meal prayer:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Understanding Purgatory

The Catechism states that when a person dies wanting God’s mercy but needing further purification, he or she will definitely go to heaven. “The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” (CCC 1030-1033)

St. Gregory the Great also gives us a compelling quote, based on Jesus’ words: As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire.  He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come.  From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

The development of the doctrine on purgatory stems from the understanding of God’s profound attribute:  MERCY. God’s mercy provides the opportunity for total purification which satisfies God’s justice. The good thief suffering with Jesus on Mount Calvary is a good example of what a purgation looks like within the context of mercy. The good thief says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answers him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:42-43). When we suffer something without Jesus, it is misery with no healing.  But, when we suffer something with Jesus, it is mercy with profound healing.

My choice not to stand up and shout at the minister and his congregation, I think, was the right choice. Since what Jesus desires of us is not only that we know the truth and proclaim it to others, but also that we deliver the message in a manner imbued with His humility, which can never conflict with His charity.

Any good we accomplish for the deceased happens only because we and the departed have union with Jesus in the charity of His suffering – “I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit (purification), because without me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5)

 

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