According to the New York Times, suicide rates are at their highest level in 30 years. I have rarely come across a person these days who has not been touched by a friend or a family member who has committed suicide. While there are many reasons for suicide, that is a topic for another article. The focus for this article is what we can do as Catholics when we have lost someone to suicide.
How are we as Catholics to deal with these tragedies? Many of us wonder where the soul of our loved one ends up. Is there hope for our loved ones who took their own lives?
Lessons from the Catechism
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states;
Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God. ccc 2281
But the Catechism goes on to say;
…Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. ccc 2282
We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide salutary repentance. The church prays for persons who have taken their own lives. ccc 2283
This means there is hope. If God can provide salutary repentance, then there is definitely hope.
Suicide Hits Home
I was 17 when my friend Patrick took his own life. I was devastated. I wondered about his soul since I knew suicide was a grave matter. It wasn’t long after his death that I began to dream about him. My mother told me if I was dreaming about him that he was probably in purgatory and I needed to pray for him. I have had dreams of him on and off into adulthood. As an adult I got very serious about praying for him.
Additionally, earlier this year my friends and my community were touched by four suicides of people of varying ages. It was no coincidence then that I had come across Divine Mercy 101 with Father Chris Alar. As I sat and pondered these suicides, feeling helpless and worried for souls, I remembered that Fr. Alar had said (paraphrasing), if you say a Divine Mercy Chaplet today for someone who has died in the past, the graces from your prayer today, because God is outside of time, are taken to your loved one at the time of their judgement. In other words, God could for see that you would say the prayer for the loved one and then apply that grace for them when they die. Our God is that merciful. Unfathomable mercy. Pray the chaplet, our prayers do have power.
Gregorian Masses….the answer
It was around this time that my cousin had also introduced me to Gregorian Masses. This is a series of 30 Masses that is said for a soul in purgatory. Tradition tells us that Pope St. Gregory the Great offered these Masses for the soul of one of his monks that visited him from purgatory. When Pope Gregory had finished the Masses the monk appeared to thank him for releasing him. The Masses are offered for one deceased soul (not multiple people) for 30 consecutive days. Now, please understand, we offer a stipend for a Mass. These stipends are to take care of the Priest who says the Mass, and in poorer countries, in particular, this mean a lot. Plus the stipend is also a sacrificial offering made by us. Canon 946 tells us how the stipend is for the good of the Church. Typically in today’s day and age, a Mass stipend is about $10, although I have found some for $5 a Mass. So Gregorian Masses aren’t always in the realm of what someone can afford, but they are very efficacious if you are able to, especially in a case of suicide.
If 30 Masses isn’t a possibility, then one Mass is also a good thing. The Mass is heaven on earth, and our prayers help souls in purgatory.
So if you are suffering the loss of someone to suicide, do not despair. Our God is a God of Mercy. Pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet for them and perhaps have Gregorian Masses said for them, or a single Mass. Our prayers mean something and you may be able to help your loved one get to heaven.
I haven’t had a dream about Patrick in awhile. My hope for him is that he is now in the glory of heaven, thanks to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the power of the Mass.