With the observance of Undas once again at hand, it’s timely and fitting to remember our beloved dead ones. And, for us Catholics, the optimum way of remembering our departed loved ones is by praying for them.
The Catholic tradition and theological tenet as well of “praying for the dead” is closely attached to the doctrine of “purgatory.” The Creed of St Pius V asserts that “what must be believed of faith by Catholics is that there is a purgatory and that souls detained in it are helped by the prayers of the faithful.”
However, Christian fundamentalists are quick to excoriate that, among others, “purgatory” is not mentioned in Scripture. However, I’d like to butt in, neither is the word “Trinity” found, nor “Sunday observance,” nor is “Bible,” “books of the Gospels,” or “book of the New Testament.”
But, from my Catholic perspective, we can find numerous texts in the Bible that the Church has always read as applying to the mysterious reality called PURGATORY: 2 Maccabees 12:46 (prayer for the dead); 2 Timothy 1:18 (prayer for Onesiphorus); Matthew 12:32 (sin too malicious to be forgiven either in this world or after death); Luke 12:59 (person won’t be freed until the last ‘mite’ due to God’s justice has been paid); and many others.
The decrees of both the First and Second Vatican Councils stress the efficacy of prayers for the dead.
Moreover, sacred apostolic tradition and the Fathers of the Church (long before the advent of Biblical Fundamentalism) have collectively affirmed the belief in purgatory and prayers for the dead.
St. Augustine (354-430 AD) discusses the opinion of Aerius (De Haer.) and points out that the custom of praying for the dead, and especially of having Masses offered for them, was universally held throughout the Christian world. Epiphanius (315-403 AD) traces the belief in such prayers to the times of the Apostles.
St. John Chrysostom (345-407 AD) comments: “It is not without good reason ordained by the apostles, that mention should be made of the dead in the Tremendous Mysteries (Mass) because they know well that these will receive great benefit from it.” (Hom. 3, In Ep. Ad Philip).
Cyprian of Carthage (200-258 AD), in his fifty-second Epistle, wrote: “It is one thing to be waiting for pardon, another to attain glory; one thing to be sent to prison and not to go from there until the last farthing has been paid, and another to receive immediately the reward of faith and virtue; one thing to suffer lengthy torments for sin and to be chastised and purified for a long time in that fire, another to have cleansed away all sins by suffering.” The ‘suffering’ Cyprian is referring to is that of martyrdom.
St. Augustine (Sermon 172), declares that “Through the prayers and sacrifices of the Church and alms-deeds, God deals more mercifully with the departed than their sins deserve.” In his Confessions (Book 9), Augustine records his mother Monica’s request that he offer the Sacrifice of the Mass for her to “obtain the pardon of her sins.”
Verily, in the last analysis, with our celebration of All Souls Day, it is indeed a comforting realization that resonant with our Christian faith, while our departed loved ones are already in the bosom of God’s heavenly kingdom with the help of our prayers, they are still in communion with us – helping and interceding for us too – and one day we will be reunited with them in God’s glory.
Requiem aeternam donaa eis, Domine! Et lux perpetua luceat eis: Requiescant in pace. Amen. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord! And let perpetual light shine upon them: May they rest in peace. Amen.
Blessed All Souls Day!
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