By tradition, the month of November is dedicated to our beloved dead. From
earliest days, the Church has prayed for her deceased members and offered
the sacrifice of the Mass in their behalf. Why has she prayed for the dead?
Because the dead are in need of our prayers: they have yet to complete their
journey to the Lord.
The Bible teaches that only those who are without sin may stand in the
presence of God. Yet, relatively few of us attain to such holiness in this life.
Most of us leave this world with some attachment to sin from which we must
be purified. That is why we pray for the dead. Our prayers comfort and assist
them in their process of purification even as our prayers comforted and
assisted them in this life. For those who die in mortal sin, of course, there is
no hope. They have hardened their hearts against God and refused
repentance. But for those who die in venial sin, there is certain hope that God
will remain faithful to His promise and grant them eternal life.
The process of purification from sin—what we call purgatory—begins in this
life. When, for love of God and neighbor, we do penance for our sins through
acts of self-denial, our hearts become more pure. We grow stronger and closer
to God. It is God who begins this good work in us by moving us to a true
sorrow for our sins, but it is we who must cooperate with His grace by
redirecting our will and its desires to the divine will.
The amount of purgation that our loved ones must undergo before entering
into full union with God is usually beyond our ability to know. That is why
we always pray for our dead unless God gives us some certain sign that they
have already attained to the fullness of life in heaven. For instance, the
Church has always believed that martyrdom in this life fully cleanses of all
sin and enables the martyr to enter directly into heaven. The Church can also
come to certain knowledge in other cases where the holiness of a person
inspires widespread devotion and is confirmed through divine miracles
worked through the dead person’s intercession.
The Church believes that whenever we advance in holiness, we strengthen
not only ourselves but also all the faithful, living and deceased. This is based
on the Scriptural principle of solidarity: “If one member suffers, all suffer
together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians
12:26) This principle underlies the Church’s practice of praying for the dead.
Our advance in holiness, when done for love of them, also helps them to
advance closer to the Lord.
So this November, let us remember our beloved dead and pray for them.
Have a great week.