A time to remember the faithful departed

A time to remember the faithful departed

Not so long ago, we observed a Year of Mercy. During that year the corporal and spiritual works of mercy were to be reflected upon and put into practice. Of these works, two need special mention during the month of November, a time to remember the faithful departed. These works are the corporal work of burying the dead and the spiritual work of praying for the living and the dead.

The corporal work of burying the dead manifests not just affection for the deceased; it also manifests reverence for our bodies, especially the baptized, whose bodies have become temples of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19). By burying the dead with care, we show that we are looking forward to the resurrection, that our bodies will be resurrected and made glorious, after the pattern of Jesus’ glorified body. It is for this reason that the church teaches that, should the body be cremated, the remains be kept together (not separated) and placed in sacred ground (not scattered or left on the mantle).

The spiritual work of praying for the dead reminds us that, though one might be judged worthy of heaven and the Beatific vision, one might not yet be ready to actually enjoy that vision. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

This time of purification in spent in purgatory, where souls are purified, and so made perfect, so to behold the most Blessed Trinity. Recall Jesus’ words “be you perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt.5:48).

Being so close to beholding God is a cause of pain for the holy souls in purgatory, which by our prayers we help to alleviate, even helping to obtain the grace needed to participate in the Beatific vision. This can be done by prayer, penances, sacrifices, the giving of alms and by having Masses offered for the repose of their souls. We find an example of such a spiritual work in the actions of Judas Maccabeus as found inthe Second Book of Maccabees.

Helping the blessed dead, whether known or unknown to us, pass quickly into heaven, should cause each of us to pause and ponder the questions Thomas A Kempis asked in “The Imitation of Christ”: “Who will be there when you are dead? Who will pray for you?”

The beginning of a response to these questions is: pray for the dead. By praying for the souls in purgatory, they will in turn pray for us when they are in heaven; especially at the moment of our own deaths and during any stay in purgatory. Recall that prayer always benefits the one who prays. Prayer opens the heart to the grace of Christ, transforming the person, so to become holy as he is holy. Such holiness will help us to pass quickly into heaven when death finally comes to us.

Secondly, let us do all we can to perform the rites of Christian Burial for our loved ones. These rites, when done properly, stir up faith and hope in the resurrection which should lead to three things. One, it will teach others to have these rites observed for us when we die. Secondly, it easies the sadness that comes with the death of a loved one, looking forward in hope to seeing them again at the resurrection and being reunited with our loved ones in heaven. Finally, these rites help remind us that life is more than what we encounter here and now; that the blessed Trinity desires us to share in eternal life. Eternal life with the Trinity is the abundant life Jesus came to give us (cf. Jn 10:10). Therefore, death truly is not an end, but a change (cf. Preface I for the Dead, Roman Missal).

During this month of remembering the dead, let us perform these works of mercy, praying for and burying the dead, so that when death comes we might experience the mercy of God.


Father Jason Rocks is currently in Rome at the Pontifical North American College for Advanced Studies.

Categories: Columns, Growing in Faith

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