Pray for the living and the dead

| Father Michael Van Sloun | March 1, 2016 | 0 Comments

It is a spiritual work of mercy to pray for the living and the dead. These prayers make intercession for the spiritual benefit of another, for the living — that the person would receive a special grace or blessing — or for the dead — that the deceased person would be forgiven any remaining temporal punishment for sin, be aided along the journey to heaven and be warmly welcomed by God, as well as the angels and saints, and take the dwelling place that has been prepared in the Father’s house.

Jesus prayed for the living as an act of mercy. Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail and that he would be able to strengthen his brothers (Lk 22:32). He also prayed for his disciples, asking his Father to “keep them in your name . . . that they may be one” (Jn 17:11). He also prayed, “Keep them from the evil one” (Jn 17:15); “Consecrate them in the truth” (Jn 17:17); and “I pray . . . also for those who will believe in me through their word” (Jn 17:20). Jesus prayed for his enemies from the cross when he asked his Father, “Forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Jesus was deeply concerned about the spiritual welfare of others, and he prayed for their benefit. Jesus has left us an example. As he has done, so we should also do.

The practice of praying for the living is firmly established in sacred Scripture. Abraham prayed for the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:22-32). Moses prayed for his troops as they fought the Amalekites (Ex 17:8-13), for healing for Miriam (Num 12:13), and for recovery for those who had been bitten by saraph serpents (Num 21:7). Solomon prayed for the welfare of the people of Israel (1 Kgs 8:22-53).

The practice of praying for the dead goes back to Judas Maccabeus. Some soldiers in his army died in battle, and when it came time to bury them it was discovered that they were wearing amulets, small figurines of a false god, a serious offense against the First Commandment. Because these men died in sin, “they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out” (2 Mac 12:42). Their prayer “made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved of their sin” (2 Mac 12:46).

It is a good and noble act to pray for the dead. The funeral Mass is a special way to do so, and eucharistic prayers include a special prayer for the deceased person. Additional prayers for the dead include the various funeral rites: the reception of the body, the vigil service or wake, the funeral Mass, the funeral liturgy outside of Mass, and the committal or graveside prayers. In many places, it is also customary to offer a rosary for the deceased at the wake or before the funeral Mass.

It is an act of mercy to pray for the dead on a regular basis. All Souls Day, Nov. 2, is set aside to pray for the faithful departed, and the entire month of November is a time to pray for the dead. Mass intentions can be offered. Each eucharistic prayer has an invocation for the dead. It is customary to offer the last intercession of the prayers of the faithful for those who have passed away. It is good to make visits to the cemetery to pray at the graves of family and loved ones. Prayer is a bond that unites the communion of saints of the living with the communion of saints of the faithful departed.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata.

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Category: Year of Mercy