Pray for the Living and the Dead
As we prepare to enter the month of November, which begins with the Solemnity of All Saints— a holy day of obligation— and followed immediately by All Souls, the timing could hardly be better for arriving at the final spiritual work of mercy. Indeed, even as we pray for the assistance of those who have reached the destination of Heaven— perfect eternal union with God— we are called to pray for those on earth who are saints in training (Christians under Construction!) and those who have died who are, as part of the Mystery of the process of Redemption, somehow yet in transition.
Once again, let us hear from Monsignor Charles Pope:
What is the value of one prayer? I suspect it is far greater than any of us imagine. Prayer changes things, sometimes in obvious ways, more often in subtle and even paradoxical ways. But prayer is surely important, even when we don’t experience its immediate effects. Perhaps this is why Jesus taught us to pray always and never to lose heart (see Luke 18:1). Saint Paul echoed this with the simple exhortation “Pray constantly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Saint James also warned, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2).
Perhaps one of the greatest joys of heaven will be seeing how much of a difference our prayers made, even the distracted and perfunctory ones. Perhaps our simple utterance at the end of a decade of the rosary to “save us from the fires of hell and lead all souls to heaven” will reach the heart of one lost soul, prompting him to answer the gentle call of God to return. Imagine if someday in heaven that very sinner comes up to you and says, “Though we never met, your prayer reached me and God applied his power to me.” Imagine the joy of many such meetings in heaven. Imagine, too, whom you will joyfully thank for their prayers, people you know and some you never met. But they prayed, and the power of their prayers reached you.
Praying for the dead, however, is a spiritual work of mercy that has suffered in recent decades. Too many Catholics today “miss a step” when loved ones die. There are often immediate declarations that the deceased are “in heaven” or are “in a better place.” But Scripture doesn’t say that we go right to heaven when we die. No, indeed, there is a brief stopover at the judgment seat of Christ.
Purgation and purification are necessary before entering heaven, of which Scripture says, “Nothing unclean shall enter it” (Revelation 21:27). Again, this is worth praying about. It is a great work of mercy we can extend to our deceased loved ones, to remember them with love and to pray, in the words of Saint Paul, “[May God] who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6). Pray often for the souls in purgatory. Surely there are joys there for them, knowing that they are on their way to heaven. But surely, too, there are sufferings that purgation must cause.
[excerpt from Chapter 14 of Beautiful Mercy: Experiencing God’s Unconditional Love So That We Can Share It With Others ]