Introduction: The first reading from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom is often used at funerals. The most likely reason is the line “the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them.” Admittedly more of the reading could be cited or quoted, but the general idea of those who have died are in peace is the main theme.
Harmonizing with other teaching: However whenever we read the Bible or Sacred Scriptures—or for that matter, whenever we discuss one area of our Catholic faith or belief—we have to make sure that we don’t contradict or go contrary to some other element of what we have been taught. The reason I say this is that I at least (and I hope I am wrong) get the impression that at times we are so sure of putting our deceased relatives and friends in heaven that we no longer bother to pray for them. Quite bluntly, this is not in accord with genuine Catholic teaching either. For example, at every Mass the priest makes a memento or remembrance for some or more persons who have died.
Why do we do this? You might ask, why do we do this? I’ll try to explain without getting too philosophical or involved. In the next world, time doesn’t exist as it does in our world. We know of a past, a present and hopefully that there will be a future. But with God everything is like a perpetual or eternal ‘now’. I will admit this may be hard to understand, but the following example may help. Our life now on earth is like a parade going past us, but we only see what is happening right now. We might remember what happened before, but we don’t know what the rest of it is going to be. But God is like someone on top of a tall building. He is able to see the entire parade, all at once, from beginning to end. With Him there is no past, present or future.
Practical application: Now a very practical application of this can be our prayers and Masses for our departed loved ones. They may have died years ago, and we are praying for them now. But God, because he is God, knows that we would be praying or having Masses offered for them many years after they died. And so God applied the good results of these prayers and Masses long before they were actually said, at least in our chronology. I’ll grant you that it might sound a bit confusing, but it is an attempt to show what we should always continue to pray for our departed loved ones. And so while we may think and believe that they are at rest with God, it is because of the prayers and Masses and prayers that we have said and will continue to say long after they have departed.
Insurance policy: As a further incentive to pray and try to help the souls in purgatory I usually throw in this thought. I suspect most of us are humble and sinful enough to admit that we think we will need prayers after we die. I think one good way of insuring this is by doing what we can to help others now while we can. Our catechism taught us years ago that the souls in purgatory cannot help themselves any longer, but that we can help them. Let us help them, so that hopefully others will help us when we need help.
Gaining indulgences: Unfortunately, in my opinion, Pope Paul VI made it more difficult to gain indulgences, especially plenary indulgences. To gain one, one must receive Communion on that day and go to confession within two weeks before or after performing the work. That makes it impossible for many people. Luckily I live in circumstances where I can fulfill the requirements to gain a plenary indulgence every day, and that is usually the first thing I do. But on those days when you do receive Holy Communion, you can gain a plenary indulgence by praying the rosary together with someone else, or by meditating or reading about the sufferings of Our Lord for fifteen minutes. There are partial indulgences attached to many other prayers and good works. All that one need do to gain them is to have the general intention. This too is a way we can help the souls in purgatory. If anyone tells you that the Second Vatican Council did away with purgatory, tell them they don’t know what they are talking about. I personally do whatever I can to help those souls so that I’ll be helped when I need it.
We hope you enjoyed this guest article by Fr. Valentine Young, OFM.