We are connected to the people who have gone before us, and they to us.
Early on, the Church introduced a prayer for the dead into its Eucharistic prayers. The Jews had already been saying this prayer. Although our sins are completely forgiven by God as soon as we confess them with a sincere desire to convert, we are still left with a retinue of habits of selfishness or evil which we must rid ourselves of in order to enter the Kingdom of love.
Purgatory, said the Holy Curé of Ars, is “a kind of infirmary” in which we are quarantined for having been contaminated by the plague in a country we have visited. The souls that are in this “infirmary” do not rebel against this process of purification because they feel that they need it. But the wonderful thing about it is that, by virtue of the communion of saints—of this mysterious solidarity that connects all members of the Church beyond even the frontiers of death—we can shorten the period of purification of the souls of our close ones in purgatory, while they themselves can pray for us.
Our duty to pray for the dead
What can help them the most is offering the holy sacrifice of Mass, because Christ is the only Savior. However, “through Him, with Him and in Him” we can offer prayers and sacrifices; our own, but also the prayers and sacrifices of all the other members of the Church. Hence the very ancient practice of indulgences. In fact, the Church considers that it has received from the Lord the power to draw from the treasury of all the merits of the saints in order to spread their goodness over all those who humbly accept to receive them. Jesus promised Peter: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
I do three things when I recite an indulgent prayer. I recognize that I must still detach myself from everything that prevents me from rising totally to God. I recognize the solidarity that connects all the members of the Church: “In the Church, each one carries the other and all are carried by Him,” said St. Gregory the Great. Finally, I recognize that the Church has received from the Lord the power to draw on this spiritual treasure in order to distribute it to all those who wish to benefit from it.
The Curé of Ars would often cite the duty to pray for one’s deceased relatives: “If the Good God allowed them to show themselves, we would see them throwing themselves at our feet: ‘Oh, children, have mercy on us!’ the poor souls would say. They would ask for a prayer, a Mass.” But he also said: “If we knew how many graces we could obtain through the souls in purgatory, they would not be so forgotten.”
Abbot Pierre Descouvemont
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