Praying for someone who's dead may seem odd: dead is dead, right?
Death and being CatholicSomeone who is dead is just that: dead. Not living. From a strictly secular point of view, there's not much to do for someone who's dead: apart from disposing of the body, and maybe saying some nice things about the deceased.
I'm a practicing Catholic. I worship the Son of God who was tortured and died, but who didn't stay dead.1 I have to believe that death is real: and that death isn't the end of my existence. I put a few links about that sort of thing under "Background," below.
Death, Then the Big Reality CheckSo, since I'm a Catholic, I believe that I'll be whisked straight to front-row-center in Heaven? Not hardly. I'm looking forward to the final performance review we call particular judgment. Not that "looking forward" gives quite the right impression. I'd better have gotten my repentance done by then, because there's no repentance after death. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 393)
My eternal status will be determined at that particular judgement. The Last Judgment is another, related, topic.
So, right after that particular judgment, I get shot straight to Heaven? Or Hell? Probably not.
The Saints are, present tense, in Heaven. They're the folks who "...lived a life of exemplary fidelity to the Lord...." (Catechism, 2156) In principle, I could have "lived a life of exemplary fidelity to the Lord." Maybe I'll have perfected myself by the time I die. But somehow, I don't think I can count on that. "Perfect?" Me?!
Where are Members of the Church?The Baltimore Catechism isn't the only one to use a question-and-answer format. Here's how one of our teaching aids explains where Christians are:
"Q. Where are the members of the Church to be found?The current official English-language Catechism is a great deal more wordy about Purgatory.2
A. The members of the Church are found partly in heaven, forming the Church Triumphant; partly in purgatory, forming the Church Suffering; partly on earth, forming the Church Militant."
("Catechism of Saint Pius X")
By the way: The phrase "cleansing fire" comes up in connection with Purgatory. I rather like the "cleansing" part of that, since I'm none-too-confident about becoming absolutely perfect by the time I die. The "fire" part, though, sounds unpleasant: and an excellent incentive to do as much as I can now, of the spiritually heavy-lifting.
- "Coming this Monday: Halloween"
(October 30, 2011)
- "An Eternal Life I can Live With"
(August 27, 2011)
- "Hell, Heaven, Character, and Culture"
(June 23, 2011)
- "Bird Songs, a Chain Saw, and the Church Militant"
(June 28, 2010)
- "Alone in a Church? Yes and No"
(May 14, 2010)
- Eternal life
- Free will
- Final purification, or Purgatory
- Our hope of the new Heaven and the new Earth
- Last Judgment
- Particular judgment
- "Catechism of Saint Pope Pius X," Ninth Article
English translation from the Compendium of Catechetical Instruction by the Right Reverend Monsignor John Hagan, Dublin (1910)
- "General Audience"
Pope Benedict XVI (January 26, 2011)
- "Mass in remembrance of recently deceased Cardinals and Bishops, Homily of Benedict XVI"
Pope Benedict XVI (November 5, 2009 )
- "Solemnity of All Saints - Homily of Pope Benedict XVI"
(November 1, 2006)
- "Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed - Angelus"
Pope John Paul II (November 2, 2003)
- "Encyclical Evangelii Praecones"
Pius XII (June 2, 1951)
1 Maybe the Resurrection doesn't seem all that remarkable, now that we've been hearing about it for two millennia. At the time, though, it's pretty obvious that folks who had been with Jesus of Nazareth weren't expecting to see him again. Apart from the women who went to finish the job of preparing his dead body. (Matthew 28:1-7, Mark 16:1-7, Luke 24:1-8, John 20:1-9) Then there's that working breakfast we read about in Luke 21: and that's another topic.
2 Purgatory isn't a 'get out of jail free' card for Catholics. As I said, that "cleansing fire" doesn't sound at all comfortable.
"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.
"The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:607"As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.608"This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: 'Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.'609 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.610 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:"Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.611"(Catechism, 1030-1032)