Praying for Souls Instead of Canonizing Them

mass, prayer, petition, funeral, worship

mass, prayer, petition, funeral, worship

Have you been to a Catholic funeral lately? If so, was it a canonization, or was it the Mass of Christian Burial for the faithful departed? It seems that the homily at many Catholic funerals includes something to the effect that “‘he’ or ‘she’ is in heaven now.” In effect, the homilist is saying or implying that the soul of the deceased has skipped purgatory and gone directly to heaven. This is in some ways the eschatological equivalent of playing the “Get out of Jail Free” card of life. It is easy to assume the souls of our deceased loved ones already have made it to eternal bliss. But have they? Maybe—maybe not.

The Status of Souls and the State of the Grieving Survivors

On the one hand, there is sadness and a deep sense of loss among the relatives and friends of the deceased. Thus, the pastoral thing to do is to provide them with some comfort and a spiritual, faith-based context to help them at this difficult time. At the same time, the Mass is an intercession for the soul of the departed loved one. That soul’s attainment of the eternal life with God is a top priority.

When people hear that the deceased is in heaven, it’s easy to become complacent after the funeral. We can inadvertently overlook the need for prayers for this person’s soul—after all, they are in heaven, right? That’s what we heard from the ambo, after all. When we consider the poor catechesis of many Catholics, the matter is even more grave—no pun intended. How many of the faithful understand that once someone dies, they don’t necessarily just go right to heaven? Even if the deceased was a good old boy or girl, they may not be at this instant with God, and all His angels and saints.

What Happens to Souls of the Faithful Departed?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ. They are like God forever, for they “see Him as He is,” face to face… (CCC 1023).  If we die in a state of grace, we will end up seeing God. Dying in a state of grace means that, at the time of our death, we are not in a state of mortal sin. Mortal sin cuts us off from God and His grace. Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him” (CCC 1855).

If we commit mortal sin, we then need to confess, repent and amend our ways. As a result, we can look forward to eternal life with Our Lord—someday. Someday can be at the time that we depart this life, or it might be some point out into the future, depending on the purity of our soul.

Why Do We Need “Perfectly Purified” Souls?

The teaching of the Church holds that we need to undergo purification, either while here on earth, or after death, before seeing God. The reason is to allow us “…to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven…” (CCC 1030). We want to be united with God—the God of infinite love, mercy, goodness and purity. How can we do so if we have not atoned for the sins we’ve committed?

Father Wade Menezes, in his book, The Four Last Things, explains this concept nicely. I will paraphrase it here. If you back into my car in the parking lot, you may be truly sorry for having done so. You may confess that you’ve done it. I can forgive you for doing so, but you’re still on the hook for the damage you’ve caused. Paying for the damage is the metaphor for undergoing purification to enter into God’s presence. We all, being imperfect humans, have some atoning to do, either now or in the future.

Purification of Souls Now Rather Than Later

Father Wade explains that we don’t have to wait and spend time after death in purgatory to attain purification. In fact, we can achieve purification of our souls to one degree or another in this present life. To do this, we need to embrace our crosses and offer up our suffering and tribulations. Thus, we are turning those things we would prefer to avoid into redemptive suffering, uniting them to the cross of Christ. We can undergo real-time purification through prayer, fasting and alms giving. As well, we can perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and partake of the Sacraments. Indulgences are attached to these activities, and Father Wade recommends that we routinely pursue those indulgences available to us.

Indulgences—Gifts for Our Souls

An indulgence is not an exemption from any commandments or precepts, nor is it permission to commit a sin. It certainly is not a means of buying one’s way into salvation. An indulgence is “…a remission…of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven…An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin. The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead” (CCC 1471).

The Manual of Indulgences, published by the USCCB, has a complete list of indulgences available to the faithful. Praying the Rosary at home with our family, or in a church with other faithful, can generate a plenary indulgence, for example. Grace before meals can get us a partial indulgence. We can ask that any of these indulgences be applied either for ourselves or for others, including our departed brothers and sisters.

The Apostolic Pardon and the Souls of the Faithful Departed

There is one time when we might assume that the departed soul truly is in heaven. This is when that person has received an apostolic blessing from a priest prior to their death. The Manual of Indulgences, No. 12, §1 states that, “A priest who administers the Sacraments to someone in danger of death should not fail to impart the apostolic blessing to which a plenary indulgence is attached.”

In other words, a complete remission of the effects of forgiven sins occurs. Outside of an apostolic blessing, we cannot know with certainty that the deceased actually is in heaven. Even with an apostolic blessing in place, some commentators have suggested that we still should pray for the souls of the faithful departed. If they don’t end up needing our prayers, some other souls can benefit from them.

Avoiding the Canonization Syndrome

When it’s my time to face the particular judgment, I don’t want anyone assuming anything—other than the fact that I need their prayers. I plan on talking to my pastor about two key wishes I have in this regard. One is that, if I’m hospitalized and in danger of death, that he or another priest administer last rites, viaticum, prayers for commendation of the dying, and the apostolic blessing. The other is that, at my funeral, some brief explanation of Catholic beliefs in this matter be mentioned, and that prayers for my soul be requested. The latter is even more important if conditions are such that I couldn’t get an apostolic blessing before my departing from this life.

Mass—Not a “Service”

My wife and I left instructions in our wills to have a Mass celebrated upon each of our deaths. We want the real deal—the Mass of Christian Burial—not just a “service” and interment. Nowadays, we hear of too many situations where the survivors opted out of a Mass for one reason or another. We don’t want that to happen in our case.

As well, we’ve left instructions to arrange for Gregorian Masses for us. The Marians of the Immaculate Conception explain this practice:

Gregorian Masses are a series of Holy Masses traditionally offered on 30 consecutive days as soon as possible after a person’s death…The custom of offering Gregorian Masses for a particular soul recognizes that few people are immediately ready for heaven after death, and that, through the infinite intercessory power of Christ’s sacrifice, made present in Holy Mass, a soul can be continually perfected in grace and enabled to enter finally into the union with the Most Holy Trinity – our God, Who is Love Itself.

This tradition began in the sixth century with Pope St. Gregory the Great. Although it is an approved tradition, it is not an official one. I’ve heard opinions both pro and con for Gregorian Masses. In my view, it sure can’t hurt anything and could possibly do some good for one or more souls. If so, why not take advantage of it? There are a variety of religious orders that provide Gregorian, or Seraphic, Masses. You can find them through an internet search.

Preparing Now—Praying Now

As Jesus tells us, we “…know neither the day nor the hour” of our passing (Mt 25:13). Knowing that, we need to take these matters seriously. We probably all would like to optimize our chances of making it to heaven, while avoiding or minimizing post-death purgation. Living as Jesus asks, following the “greatest commandment,” showing charity and mercy to others is a good start. Maintaining a robust prayer life, and frequent reception of the Sacraments will help keep us on the right path.

We must pray without ceasing, for the souls of our departed family, friends, priests and religious we knew. Offer Masses, including Gregorian Masses for them. Keep them in your intentions in your daily prayers, including the Rosary. We ought to pray proactively, as well, for the grace of conversion, reversion or deeper conversion for our family, friends, priests and religious, and ourselves.

As a final note, this time of the year, we’d all do well to pray for all the souls in purgatory, especially those who have no one else to pray for them. Pray for them, asking God to show them mercy and bring them home to Him. St. Gertrude the Great, a 13th century Benedictine mystic, offered the following prayer for souls in purgatory:

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family.

According to tradition, our Lord promised St. Gertrude that 1,000 souls would be released from purgatory each time it is said devoutly. In any event, all prayers are good. Let’s not forget our departed brothers and sisters, and let’s not assume anything; rather, let’s pray for them.

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28 thoughts on “Praying for Souls Instead of Canonizing Them”

  1. And no one mentions vestment colors. When are we going to bring back the black, and i mean real black, not white/purple with black trim.

    1. Actually, I’ve seem black vestments used at All Soul’s Day Masses. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal indicates, at 346, that they can use violet, black or white at funeral Masses.

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  3. With respect to the plenary indulgence attached to the Apostolic Blessing is it still the case that the normal requirements for obtaining a plenary indulgence are in effect? Specifically that the recipient have “complete detachment from sin, even venial sin.” If so, then it is possible that only a partial indulgence is received and our departed who did receive such blessing at the moment of death may still require our prayers.

    1. I remember reading about some saint (St Alphonsis Liguori?) who was present when a visiting “mission preacher” gave the apostolic blessing to all present in the cathedral at the end of the retreat, which he said granted a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions. God granted him to see how many out of the vast crowd actually gained the indulgence: Only two! –himself, and one humble old woman who had laboured all her life as a maid.

    2. Edward and Adrian – apparently it is still the case that the normal requirements are still in place, so not all who receive the apostolic blessing will necessarily get a plenary indulgence, although a partial should be in order. Confirmed this with a knowledgeable priest this afternoon.

      Even more important then, for us to continue to pray for the dead.

      Thanks to both of you for your input on this, and God bless–Dom

  4. Our local Catholic Funeral Director, a former Altar Boy and product of 12 years of Catholic education when submitting an obituary for the deceased writes, “You are invited to 10:00 AM funeral Mass to celebrate the life of ….” The purpose of a funeral Mass is not to “celebrate” anyone’s life, but to offer the eucharistic sacrifice for the repose of the soul of the individual who has died!

    1. Unfortunately, we see a lot of the “celebrations of life” referred to in spite of the true purpose of the funeral Mass. Thanks for your comment, and God bless–Dom

    2. If you sit in the rear and pay attention during a new canonization mass, and whoever is speaking begins the litany of the saintly deeds of the dead, watch closely – you will see two people turn their heads toward each other, sometimes rolling their eyes, sometimes shaking their heads, sometimes even laughing. I believe they are marvelling at the power of God’s mercy. Guy McClung

  5. You mention the Apostolic Blessing in connection with those who are in danger of death. Although it can be found in the booklets that are used by priests for the anointing of the sick, I have seen editions where you have to look for it since various situations are listed for the sacrament and the blessing only appears in one place. It is a good idea for family members to ask the priest to give this apostolic blessing, especially when death seems imminent and the sacrament was given some days or weeks before and the person is perhaps not even conscious.

  6. Thanks for that wonderful article! I’ve been having names included on Lists for 02Nov.; for the whole month of Nov., for All the Souls In purgatory; from different religious orders. I have 6 shoeboxes full of obits., remermberances, etc. from those of whom I had Masses said for. I’ve done this and still am for years! I came across; a few yrs. back, on the internet, web site: Knock Novena. It’s an organization for the Souls In Purgatory,. I belong; enrolled many family members and friends; living and deceased. We all need prayers! But what about those of us, once we leave this world, who will remember us and pray for us? it’s my “divine bank account. So when I kick the bucket, so to speak, there will be some prayers to be said for my soul and the other souls.

    1. Thanks for sharing this, Maureen. Sounds like a great idea and well worth pursuing. Great tips–God bless–Dom

    2. I have a pre-paid funeral plan. I have already specified that the funeral director (not my family, who may be undependable) will immediately request the 30 Gregorian Masses for my soul from “Aid to the Church in Need” — the stipend also benefits a needy priest in a 3rd world country.
      Anybody here with a pre-paid funeral plan, call them up and specify this instead of flowers. You can “tweak” such a plan until time of need.

  7. Great article! I recently read another article regarding the prayer of St.Gertrude. The priest who wrote it said that while yes indeed, the prayer will benefit the Holy Souls in Purgatory, there is no evidence anywhere in the Saint’s diary of the promise of releasing 1000 souls each time it is prayed. Apparently, that was attached by an unknown sources a couple of centuries after St. Gertrude’s death.

    1. Thanks for this information–and as you mention, the priest said the prayer will benefit the Holy Souls in Purgatory in any event. God bless–Dom

    2. Laurence Charles Ringo

      Here’s a question I have for you,Dom, and all my Roman Catholics brothers and sisters on this post: If I was a Roman Catholic and entered “Purgatory” upon death,
      will the Risen Christ and Savior go with me? If not,why not,and if so what would be the point? I await your reply (Or the reply of ANYONE who can and this question—Base your reply on Scripture,please.)—I’ll wait…?

    3. Laurence Charles Ringo

      My question/premise is eems simple, Mr.Cingoranelli; I don’t even have to cite Scripture, but I will: According to 1st Corinthians
      1st chapter,30th verse: “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God,and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption…Also,we are informed in Hebrews 13:5 that…”He Himself has said,”I will never desert you,nor will I ever forsake you”…I could multiply any number of verses to drive home the point, but I think you get what Our Savior has said, Dom. I would suggest that the entire Epistle to the Hebrews negates both the concept of the so-called Eucharist and the idea of Purgatory,which your own New Catholic Encyclopedia says isn’t even implicitly taught in Scripture(Look it up.)—So, again, my original question stands— I still await your reply, Dom…

    4. LCR-We all know how much is not “even implicitly taught” in scripture; e.g. the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is not in Scripture, nor is Sola Fide. Also, checking out eg the over 18000 protestant denominations, we often find one that proclaims X and the other that proclaims Not X; and scripture provides no words or program to decide which is correct (assuming that X is not something clear in scripture like “Jesus is God” or “hell is forever” -despite Jorge B now saying otherwise). Here is what I believe: I can choose to go to heaven and be with Father, Son, Holy Spirit, forever. If I totally reject God, tell Him Sorry, I Do Not Want to Ever Be With You For All Eternity, God says OK, see you. If I am not totally turned away from God, and I die, and I don’t choose the “forever frying” option, I am not yet purified, not yet having my will 100% aligned with God; so God says, Go To Time Out And When You Want To Be With Me, Come On In. God Does NOT say My Mercy Now Makes You Into One OF My Mercy Robots, so come on it unrepentant. We both know about the discussion and dispute re purgatory, and that the Church Fathers, many many of them, accepted the doctrine. We need not go over all that here; but what I would like to do is have you and all enter into my “prayer deal”: when I die and when you die we pray for each other so we can be together in heaven. And LCR, if you get there, and you don’t see me, please pull me up.
      Guy McClung, Texas

    5. Laurence Charles Ringo

      Wow, Guy…I can only stand in open-mouthed astonishment at your inability to answer what I consider a fairly simple question.But then again, I keep forgetting that you Roman Catholics have a very ambivalent relationship with the Holy Scriptures; you’re not really sure if you believe what Scriptures teach unless your so-called Magersterium interpret them for you, The Holy Spirit obviously being incompetent to do so…Oh well. Frankly, I would render your claims much more respect if you would simply admit some questions cannot be answered outside Scripture, and this is one of those questions.(Since you offered no Scripture to refute my premise, I think that you realize that.So, I ‘ll make these last two observations and you can do what you will with them:(1) The Catechism is NOT an equivalent to or substitute for Holy Writ,and(2), if,as you say,YOU can …”choose to go to Heaven and be with Father,Son,and Holy Spirit”…that means that YOU are your own “savior”, or Jesus lied in John 6:37-39. (You can stop and read that passage now, if you like.)–Isn’t it funny how those pesky Scriptures get in the way? Oh,and don’t forget what the man you Roman Catholics regard as your first”pope” affirmed in Acts 4: 12: …”there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”…Now, if you want to regard yourself as your own savior,so be it; I myself prefer to trust my eternal destiny to the ONLY ONE who can secure it, and has done so.So…again, I await your reply, and again, if you think that you can refute The Word of God, I can’t wait to see you do so—Peace in Christ. ?

    6. Sorry I’ve been MIA–been on the road and it is tough to keep up when that happens.
      Just as “Trinity” and “Incarnation” are not found in scripture, neither is “Purgatory.”
      As to a scriptural basis for purgatory – consider–
      – Is 6:3 – God is ultimate holiness
      – Mt 5:48 – Be perfect as your Father is
      – Heb 12:14 – strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord
      – Rev 21:27 – nothing unclean shall enter heaven

      – 1 Cor 3:15 – …though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire [can’t be hell, because that is not part of being saved; nor can it be heaven]
      – 1 Peter 3:18-20 – [Jesus] preached to the spirits in prison who formerly did not disobey and 1 Peter 4:6 – why the Gospel was preached even to the dead…that…they might live in the spirit like God
      – 2 Maccabees 12:44-45 [speaks to the in-between state where souls make atonement for their sins; 100 years BC, the Jews prayed for their dead , and after His death, early Christians continued the practice–evidenced by prayers on tombs and their prayers for the dead]

      Thanks, and God bless–Dom

  8. Christine Dunn Barela

    Thank you Dom for this wonderful post. My sister in law passed away 2 years ago from cancer I helped her through the graces of Jesus to be closer to God. I managed to have my local priest come to the home to give her last rights 20 mins later she died….I prayed the Rosary by her bedside trying to comfort her mother and others of the passing of their beloved daughter, sister, aunt, cousin…the next day I saw her face…her cancer ridden face then a very young and beautiful girl with sparkling eyes that told me she is in Heaven…just recently I had a long discussion with her that God permitted I have retained that she is alive I was bursting with joy and screaming that she is alive not dead my heart was filled with intense joy….when I said my prayers in the early morning I see the Cross, Star of David, Rosary and ;the good thief cross above me giving my thanks and praise then a shooting star came forth confirming life and what was in my heart…

    1. Thank you for your powerful testimony, Christine, and for helping your sister-in-law be closer to God. That’s what it’s all about–helping bring souls to Jesus. May God continue to bless you abundantly–Dom

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  10. Dear Dom, Thank you for this fine article and for all the back up references. In this time of no sin, and mercy covers all and everything, it is no surprise that each funeral is a canonization. Are we not blest to live in this time when there are no sinners anymore in the Catholic Church?

    Comment below was made to Sarah Greydanus’s recent PURGATORY IS NOT AN INSULT piece here some days ago. It applies to what you have said.

    Guy McClung, Texas

    Some years ago my fullofwonder brother-in-law Paul and I were rejoicing in the fact that every funeral for a family member over the last several decades had been in essence, a canonization ceremony. We rejoiced in the fact that we were gifted to live amongst so many saints. We realized the Pope himself could not attend these rosaries and then the funerals the next day, but we expected at the very least that a Papal Nuncio complete with biretta would pop up and issue the proclamation of sainthood. No nucnico ever appeared.

    Then we had an argument over who was the greatest sinner and who would, therefore, spend the most time in purgatory. I won- Paul has had eleven children and kept one wife happy for over half a century. Me, not so much.

    We entered into a binding contract-whoever died first, the other one would stand up after the pre-funeral rosary and say folks, yes he was a good man, but he was not a saint and we must pray for the repose of his soul and that God take him from purgatory asap. Part of the deal was to mention the happy wife and mother. [Everyone, even God, has a mother].

    Paul died last year; and indeed, the canonizers spoke after the rosary – and all the good things they said about Paul were true. I honored the deal – I was one of the last speakers – and I said some of the fullofwonder things I knew about Paul, there are many, explained the deal, and asked for prayers for Paul. His wife and children all thanked me. And the In Paradisum was sung for him.

    Guy McClung, Texas

    1. Guy, thanks for your kind words, and for your great testimony! Your approach to the situation is right on, brother!

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