When a loved one passes away, it is not uncommon for us to lament not having spent enough time with that person, or not telling them that we loved them enough. We can carry a guilt around that we have missed the opportunity to love them while they were with us, but now the time has passed. But as Catholics, we believe that our chances for doing good is not over after our loved ones have died. In fact, one of the greatest things we could ever do for them is to pray for the repose of their soul.
During the month of November, the Church earnestly encourages the faithful to pray for the souls of the faithful departed who are in Purgatory as they await their entrance into their heavenly reward. Those souls depend on our prayers to help them, and so the Church considers praying for our beloved dead as a spiritual work of mercy.
Our initial reaction to that suggestion might be to cringe. Why should we pray for them? Does that suggest that we think they might not be in Heaven? We can look to how the Church prays in her funeral liturgy for the dead. The language is beautiful as it expresses our hope in the Resurrection, that those who have died in Christ will rise with Him. But we also pray that the Lord will cleanse any stain of sin that might remain on them so that they can be fully prepared to enter into Heaven. Based on this, it seems pretty clear that the Church presumes that many (if not most) souls go to Purgatory for that purification before going to Heaven. Our prayers help them very much, as those prayers are used by the Lord to help our loved ones undergo this cleansing. If they are in Purgatory, it is only temporary – they will be in Heaven. And to think that we have the opportunity to help our loved ones get there quicker by praying for them, it seems like a no-brainer that we should be enthusiastic and generous in our prayers for the dead. How could we deny them that gift?
I sometimes think of the joyful reception we will receive when we get to Heaven, especially from those for whom we prayed and therefore helped to get to Heaven. We will see clearly how those acts of charity surpassed every good that we had done (or hoped to have done) for them while they were on earth. So during this month of November, call to mind those people in your life who had passed away, and instead of feeling sadness about not doing enough for them, not spending enough time with them, or whatever weighs heavy on you – pray for their soul, knowing that by doing so, we express our love for them in the most beautiful way possible.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace! Amen.