Recently someone asked me after the funeral Mass, I celebrated, why we Catholics pray for the dead and offer Mass for the repose of the soul. This question did not surprise me, because some of our Catholics have this same question in mind. Is it in any way helpful for the dead, if we, on earth, pray for and offer Mass for their eternal life?
I must say at the outset that for Catholics, praying for the dead is part of our faith-tradition. It is rooted in the Bible and also in the teachings of the Church. The earliest Biblical reference about prayers for the dead is found in the Second Book of Maccabees, the last Book of the Old Testament:
“He (Judas) took up a collection… sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering… For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead… he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Maccabees 12: 43-45).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches about prayers for the dead:
“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: (1030).
Once a person is dead, we do not know, if the soul is in heaven or purgatory or hell. Only Jesus Christ can judge the soul. We believe that after death, one is in the hands of God’s mercy. So, when we pray for the dead souls, we pray for God’s mercy. Jesus was our mediator on Calvary, offering himself as an eternal sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Hence, we seek for mercy by offering prayers and by offering the sacrifice of Calvary in the Holy Mass.
God bless you,
Fr. Arul Joseph V.