What we know about life after death pales in comparison with what we do not know. There are so many unanswered questions. Our Lord Himself spoke of the next life in similes, leaving us to glean a literal understanding from the imagery therein. Although the church has officially said relatively little about the souls of the deceased as being in this world (think of ghosts, apparitions of and licit communications with the dead through prayer), we have some hints that the matter may be much more complex than the little doctrinal surety we have about these matters. Upon the death of our Lord, for example, it is written that many holy souls arose from their graves and appeared to many on earth (Mt. 27:53). In our time we have testimony from a convincing number of persons who have had 'near death' experiences in which their souls seem to have hovered over and about their not-quite-yet-dead bodies. How much is fantasy, how much deception, how much undefined truth is unsure. Our doctrinal certainty on the condition of the dead is rather succinct: after the particular judgment there is heaven, or hell, or purgatory. The rest is not specified.
Holy Church however has always prayed for the souls of the faithful departed, that is, for those who were once living members of the Church on earth but who may now, after death, be in need of our prayers. Canonized saints are excluded from this prayer since it is certain that they have successfully achieved their place and their state cannot improve. Likewise, the souls of the damned cannot be ransomed by any degree of supplication for them. Only the souls of the dead in purgatory can profit from our Masses, indulgences, and other prayers and good works offered for their amelioration.
At one time in rather recent history -- before Vatican II -- Catholics had a more manifest devotion to the "poor souls" in purgatory. Ever since the near demise of the Requiem Mass (the Mass for the dead, revived only ten years ago by Pope Benedict XVI by permitting the return of the traditional Latin Mass), Catholics seem to have forgotten that purgatory is a solemnly proclaimed dogma of the Church (which, therefore, no Catholic can deny and yet remain a Catholic) and that Masses and prayers for the dead are a real benefit to those in purgatory, enabling them to be released the sooner from the just punishments they suffer as a result of their sins. (For the uninformed: the daily black vestment Requiem Mass was a common occurrence before the Council; there were in some churches so-called 'privileged altars' where indulgences for the dead were secured; litanies and other prayers for the dead were commonly recited; and people customarily arranged for Masses to be said for their beloved deceased.) With the loss of the doctrinal instruction, today's modern Catholics have the erroneous assumption that nearly everybody goes directly to heaven after death. Given the infallibility of the Church's dogma regarding the existence of purgatory it would be at least negligent, if not cruel, to omit praying for the souls detained in this transcendent 'prison' (cf. Mt 5:25). How many of our beloved may be in need of assistance from the church on earth? With the facile dismissal of the doctrine of purgatory that help will not be forthcoming.
This entire month is set aside to remember the dead and to alleviate their sufferings. It has been estimated that the pains of purgatory are more intense than any known in this life. When one considers the excruciating possibilities of present pains, that's a staggering amount. Charity ought to motivate us to assist souls who have no means to help themselves.
God in His mercy provided a place of temporary punishment for sin which we call purgatory. Let us be grateful that we can help the poor souls by our works.
This weekend our parish will have the 40 Hours of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We open this on Friday after the 7:30 Mass until 7:00 p.m. It continues on Saturday after the 7:30 a.m. Mass until 7:00 p.m. Next Sunday adoration takes place only in short intervals between Masses and concludes with the solemn high Mass at noon, followed by the procession with the Blessed Sacrament. Plan this weekend on being in church for one hour of prayer besides your usual weekend Mass time.
Sunday, November 05, 2017
Fr. Perrone: Why pray for the dead?
Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" (Assumption Grotto News, November 5, 2017):