Dear Fr. Joe: Can you please tell me why Catholics pray for the deceased?
How about this: What if I made your question into two questions and answered both? One this month and one next? I’m just that good.
Why pray for the dead? Well, to answer that, we have to step back a bit and look at how it all works in this great love story between God and us. I’m going to be using a lot of C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, especially the chapter called “Counting the Cost.” I strongly encourage everyone to check out that book.
Anyway, we begin with the simple premise that God, who is perfect, desires perfection for us. He hungers for us to “be perfect, as [Our] Father in Heaven is perfect.” This perfection that he desires for us is a difficult thing. But once we give God permission to do so, he will literally stop at nothing to get us there. The thing is, we’ve got three enemies working against us in this quest: the world, the flesh and the devil. Let’s take a quick look at each.
When we talk about “the world,” we’re talking about a mind-set, a way of thinking that permeates our culture. It’s any message passed along to us that is contrary to the Gospel. Pope John Paul II talked about “the culture of death” and that is a perfect example of what we mean by “the world,” When we talk about “the flesh,” we’re not talking about our skin. Our bodies are sacred. Instead, we’re talking about that spoiled inner child who lives inside of each of us who wants what he wants when he wants it. It’s that part of us that lies and manipulates and is selfish. Finally, when we talk about the devil, we’re talking about that fallen angel who works hard to destroy, create chaos and lead us into sin. All three are our enemies.
Now, confronting these enemies are the grace, power and love of Jesus as he works in and through all of his creation. We fight these enemies all our days and this fight, coupled with our sin and the sin around us, leave us with scars and battle damage. Sometimes, the work of holiness is so hard, we even work against God. However, since we gave God permission to make us perfect, he never gives up.
So, what does this have to do with praying for the dead? Well, those of us struggling for perfection through God are all on the same team wherever we are.
Some are here on earth: we fight, we struggle, we pray, we remain faithful, we never give up! We know this process begins on earth, but ends with our perfection in heaven. Those of us here on earth, fighting the good fight, are the part of the team that is called “The saints on earth.” Now, for us saints on earth, as long as we let him, God will finish his quest to make us perfect.
In the same way that we pray for our living teammates, our brothers and sisters, we also pray for those who have gone before us and who may now be in the process of perfection we know as purgatory.
Enjoy another day in God’s presence!