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Praying for the dead and the bereaved

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI

“Remembering the dead, caring for their graves and prayers of suffrage, are the testimony of confident hope, rooted in the certainty that death does not have the last word on human existence, for man is destined to a life without limits, which has its roots and its fulfillment in God.” (Pope Francis)

November is a time when we remember and pray, not only for our loved ones who have gone before us and whose loss we feel, but for all those who have departed from this world and for those who grieve for them – “even those who no one remembers” (Pope Francis) .

Our Church teaches that praying for the dead is a spiritual work of mercy. Many of you would have cleaned the graves of your loved ones who have passed; and would have commemorated All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day.

Our Catechism tells us about the state of purgatory: “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” (CCC, 1030). And see 1472,1473.

How can we help the souls in purgatory? We can offer prayers/novenas for them, arrange to have Masses said for the repose of their souls, almsgiving, works of penance, and obtaining indulgences for them can also help: “Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted” (Para 1479).

From the time of death, we pray for the repose of the soul of the person who has died.

“Church Tradition has always urged prayer for the deceased, in particular by offering the Eucharistic Celebration for them: it is the best spiritual help that we can give to their souls, particularly to those who are the most forsaken. The foundation of prayer in suffrage lies in the communion of the Mystical Body” (Pope Francis).

And when those who have been purified enter Heaven, they will be among all the holy men and women, saints of God, whom we ask to intercede for us. So, keep praying for the faithful departed.

This year in particular, we need to offer up our prayers for those who have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t think there is a single person who does not know of someone who has died.

As of October 30, 2020, there have been over 44 million cases of coronavirus worldwide. The disease has impacted more than 215 countries and territories. COVID-19 has spread to six continents, and over 1.19 million people have died after contracting the disease. Here in T&T, at the time of writing, 107 persons have died.

As we remember the dead, remember, as our Catechism tells us: “death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny” (CCC, 1013).

The three closest persons to me who have died have been my parents and one of my brothers. Thank God most of us were able to gather around their bedsides and pray for them before and when they died.

There is no one-size-fits-all form of grieving. I remember what a mixture of sadness and anger engulfed me when first my mother, and then my father, died in two different hospitals in the UK.

I won’t go into what transpired, except to say that racism and ageism can influence decisions that some doctors make. In fact, it is clear that certain decisions made about the elderly in certain countries during the pandemic, were not made in their interests.

Fr Edward Foley, a Capuchin priest and professor of liturgy and music at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois reminds us that “grieving is a shared enterprise”  between family and friends. It is also, he continued, “a shared enterprise between believers, which is why we gather to ritualise at the death and burial of our beloved”.

We never truly stop grieving for our loved ones who have died, but I think our grief is alleviated over the years by wonderful memories of their lives with us, and by the presence of Christ who comforts, heals and strengthens us.

May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen!

They will hammer their swords into sickles, reshape their spears into pruning hooks. One nation will not attack another. They will not practice war anymore.

—Isaiah 2:4  

CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee