Many Catholics view the body of a deceased person one last time before they are buried, reminding them of their own mortality.
Catholics have an ancient tradition known as the “wake” or “vigil,” where the deceased person’s body (or ashes) are made available for viewing in a church or funeral home.
Family members and friends are encouraged to view the deceased person one last time before they are buried.
While this tradition gives grieving individuals a time to say their last goodbye, it should also be used as a time to pray for the soul of the deceased loved one.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms, ” From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God” (CCC 1032).
This is connected to the Catholic belief in purgatory, a state of purification that many souls enter before being admitted to the eternal bliss of Heaven. It is believed that prayers for the deceased can help them in their state of purification and shorten their time in purgatory.
Also, viewing a dead body is a potent reminder of our own mortality, reminding us that we too will die some day.
What to pray when in the presence of a deceased person
The most common prayer to pray is the “Eternal Rest” prayer.
Eternal rest, grant unto him/her, O LORD
And let perpetual light shine upon him/her.
May he/she rest in peace.
Another tradition that the Knights of Columbus are well-known for is the recitation of the Rosary at the wake in the presence of the deceased loved one.
The Rosary is a powerful prayer for those in purgatory and is often suggested by many of the saints.
Besides these two common prayers, any number of prayers for a soul in purgatory would be sufficient to honor the memory of the deceased.