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Nov 7, 2018

Praying for the “Dead”

The power of intercessory prayer is most fully expressed in the love of Jesus Christ for you and me. He stands before the throne of almighty God insisting on the graces and blessings necessary for us to become Saints.  And seeing His Son, the Father is moved to perfect mercy and love for in His Son He gazes on and is enamored by our human faces.

A Priest recently told a story of an irate woman who confronted him after a Mass that she had offered for her deceased father. She insisted: “What right do you have to say that my father is in purgatory?” For during his sermon, the Priest had explained the noble gesture and powerful purpose of having Masses said for departed loved ones…as a means of more quickly securing their release from purgatory and of increasing the joy of their Heaven. 

The Priest responded to the woman: “I only implied that your father was in purgatory because you were the one that told me he was there.” She looked puzzled and asked: “When did I say that?” And the Priest responded: “If your father is in Heaven, he doesn’t need a Mass for him, and if he is in hell, all the Masses in the world won’t do him any good.  So if you requested a Mass for him, it can only mean that you believe his soul is in purgatory.”

Now this may leave one so uncomfortable that one may cease all together having Masses said for loved ones. But what is more uncomfortable, having a thought like that, or actually as a loved one or anyone for that matter being made aware of people who empowered with every opportunity to assist you and bring you incredible relief and comfort, refuse to do so. 

And if a loved one is already in Heaven and Masses and prayers remain said for that person, God in his radical generosity will apply the wealth of your holy charity to another soul, and because of your selflessness that person will be beholden to you forever and will with Jesus plead for all your needs at the throne of the Father until you arrive there yourself.

In a letter to a friend, the famed Christian writer CS Lewis had this to say: “"Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden.

What sort of interaction with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him? Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would in not break the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'? Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleaned first.' 'It may hurt, you know' - 'Even so, sir.'”

Prayers for the dead is a great spiritual work of mercy but in addition to that it also satisfies some Corporal Works of Mercy. It is a visit to the sick and imprisoned, those whose souls have been weighed down by the burdens and oppressions of this world, who have not had sufficient time to settle accounts with God and others, who receive relief and support from your best spiritual efforts.

Imagine a hospital, filled with many patients. After their admission to the hospital though before placed in any room, you assume they will receive the most meticulous care and are fine.  Yet despite your enthusiastic optimism, no doctors, nurses or orderlies come to the room.  Family members and friends having assumed all is ok, go about living the rest of their own lives.  Our intercessory prayer would not only be a visit to the hospital, but taking medical instruments in hand we help to effect not only a speedier recovery but a healing so deep and intense that once released from the hospital the patient enjoys a state of health incomparable to any point previous in their lives, even at the height of their youth. 

And the most effective and thorough means of healing is the offering of the Mass. It is here that we join the Hospital Staff of almighty God who is Chief Physician who is overjoyed to invite you to join the ranks of his perfected professionals, all the Saints and Angels in Heaven, and the Holy Virgin.  With the offering of the Mass we apply the blood of Christ upon the wounds of one’s sins and hurts and like the most powerful and soothing antiseptic ever, it effects a quick, thorough, deep cleansing and healing of all wounds.

And having helped to effect this cure, how might that affect us? As joy filled as love received is, love returned is a hundred fold more so. Such heroic acts of love on our part for souls in purgatory fill our hearts with mighty blessings and graces.  And what of the gratitude and celebration in Heaven of those released souls for you and your continued care for their eternal glory?  God’s radical generosity guarantees every one’s satisfaction and then some. 

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