I didn’t use to believe in it. But, I did it anyway. Now I believe in it and do it even more. I am speaking of praying for the dead. There is something about it we cannot help. Even people who claim to not believe in Purgation will say things such as, “May they Rest In Peace” or lately I hear a lot, ”May they rest in power.”
If what’s done is done, why the wish for peace and power? It’s not a wish, it’s a prayer. Unless one believes in the power of wishing, I suppose. I have never particularly gotten anything I have wished for. But, certainly have seen answers to prayers.
“Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to Him?” (CS Lewis)
You can google a Biblical defense of the doctrine of Purgation. You can read the Church Fathers. You can read CS Lewis if that is more your speed. I will not try to convince you. Not in this space. Texting with my son tonight about all the theological papers I have proofread and edited over the years and all the ones I will never write, he said, ”Write them now! I would support you in this.” I replied, “For whom? Myself? Besides, I am a mystic and not a theologian.” He said the world had plenty of theologians. People need their hearts strengthened along with their minds.
So what can I tell you about the comfort of bringing your broken heart before a merciful God? What can I say about asking the Lord for mercy and grace on your loved ones—even those long passed. The great Padre Pio said, “For Our Lord, the past does not exist; the future does not exist. Everything is an eternal present. Those prayers had already been taken into account so that even now I can pray for the happy death of my great-grandfather!” [source]
This weekend, I will pray. I will pause, reflect, fast with intention. Mass will be offered on the East Coast five hours before the Celebration of Life on the West Coast for the repose of the souls of my grandfather Melchizedek Abdelaziz and my aunt Melba Abdelaziz.
On Epiphany they were murdered. (Yes, you read that correctly. Sad truth of it is, it was at the hand of a cousin.) I got the news while in the car with my daughters, coming home from celebrating one of their birthdays. I just sat in the car, so stunned I couldn’t drive. When breath and words came back to me I said, “Remember O’ Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never it was it know that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored they help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence I fly unto these of Virgin of Virgins my mother. To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O’ Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petition, but in thy mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.”
This is the gift of memorized prayers. When you don’t have the words, the Church provides you with words. When you feel like there is no where to turn, the Church catches you. When you feel completely helpless to help the situation, the Church reminds you that God is outside of our time and space, but enters into it for our sake. So we can pray—for the living and for the dead, for those who understand and for those who do not, even for ourselves when we are not sure if we are living or dead, understanding or not. In those moments, God’s all-surpassing greatness and his mercy cannot begin to be overstated. You cannot exaggerate the goodness of God. You can try to misrepresent it (or even weaponize it, as Jonathan Pageau says) but you cannot exaggerate it. Any words you attempt will fall short.
Above my little prayer altar at home I have hung pictures of my family who have passed away—from my great grandparents to my grandparents and even my ex-husband’s parents. Maybe no one else is praying for them. But I do. My kids do. We pray and we hope (which does not disappoint) and we trust and we keep praying. Now we add two more to our collection of photos, strung up with marigold lights.
I remember my Grandfather preaching. I must have sat through hundreds of his sermons. I remember one in particular when he asked the question about whether we knew for sure we were saved. I can literally hear his voice right now, with a particular emphasis on the d…. “SaaaaaveD.” He had a very distinct voice, made for preaching.
I remember my Aunt Melba and her laugh. She had trials, but somehow never lost her optimism. She laughed and cried easily—because she was paying attention. She was a teenager when I was born, so she was the fun one who would take us to McDonald’s or for a day at the waterslides or shopping. She prayed for me and reached out to me a lot when I was sick.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Today I don’t get to go to their actual burial. It is on the opposite coast. But, I will go to Mass said for them and pray. God is outside space and time. In my meditations, I am, as always, grateful for religion.
“And in the middle of this, I felt so grateful. Profound, overwhelming gratefulness washed over me like steady waves of the faithful sea. I am grateful for religion.
One might be tempted to think they don’t need it. On the day-to-day in all its rote tasks, we can very well do without it. Religion seems to complicate the day-to-day. It seems to be confining when it doesn’t allow us to indulge our whims and desires. It seems unnecessary when what really matters is bills and reports and errands and to-do lists and social media. Religion seems excessively binding….
That is until it is the only thing holding you together.
The beauty and mystery of religion creates a space for days like yesterday. Days when the pain hangs thick in the air and when there are no easy answers and when you have forgotten how to pray and don’t know what to say.
In those moments there is a holy and mysterious infrastructure that receives you. You don’t know what to say? The Holy Spirit does. You don’t have words? Holy Mother Church has provided ones for this moment. Deep down you know them. You have been saying them from your youth. Maybe at the time you learned them they didn’t mean much, but in this moment they are the only thing you have to hold onto.
“….only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” (copied from Thoughts From A Funeral)