How to Pray for Your Deceased Loved Ones, 7 Days a Week

‘For if we continue to love one another and to join in praising the Most Holy Trinity — all of us who are sons of God and form one family in Christ — we will be faithful to the deepest vocation of the Church.’ (CCC 959)

Antoni Piotrowski (1853-1924), “Modlitwa (Prayer)”
Antoni Piotrowski (1853-1924), “Modlitwa (Prayer)” (photo: Public Domain)

Prayers for the faithful departed are not just for All Souls’ Day or the month of November. The Sacred Scriptures (2 Maccabees 12:45) and the Church (CCC 958) remind Catholics of the importance of suffrages for the dead throughout the year.

One sometimes finds material to write about in the most unusual places. My inspiration today comes from the Nov. 5 parish bulletin of St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill in Washington. Its pastor reproduced the contents of a holy card from Our Lady of Solitude Monastery in Arizona, which contained prayer suggestions for each day of the week. I reproduce it here, with comments:

Sunday — My Immediate Family

Parenthood (and the Fourth Commandment) is not like marriage: it does not lapse with death. And there are few persons for whom we have a greater obligation of prayer than our mothers and fathers. Do we pray for them? Without their cooperation with God, we would not even be here. Do we take the time to pray for them? (Because, if we don’t, who will?)

This category might also include a deceased spouse (which is often also an opportunity to make the petition of the Our Father — “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” — a reality.

Monday — Aunts, Uncles and Cousins

They may often have been important to us, especially as children, yet do we remember aunts and uncles? I’d especially point out the perhaps stereotypical unmarried aunt, who was often the best friend of her nieces and nephews. Without her own children, do those befriended nieces and nephews reciprocate that love by praying for their aunt?

In many cultures, “aunt” and “uncle” is also an honorific for very close friends. The students whom Karol Wojtyła accompanied on walks in the woods or kayaking, where he also gave them religious instruction, called him “Wujek” (uncle). “Ciocia” is often a term of respect and affection in Polish circles for a beloved female friend of the family. The term 阿姨 (āyí) in Chinese often fills the same function. They were close to us in life; are we close in death?

In many cultures, language often expresses a greater degree of proximity for cousins — in Polish, for example, a female cousin (depending on which side of the family she’s attached to) is a siostra cioteczna or stryjeczna (“auntish” or “unclish” sister). Two of my 14 have already passed away. Do we pray for them?

Tuesday — Grandparents

If our existence depends in some measure on the cooperation of our parents with God, it even more depended on our grandparents’ cooperation because — without the collaboration of four other people — neither I nor my parents would be here. But, alas, time tends to wipe away memories. Do we pray for grandparents? Do we pray even further for great-grandparents, whose names may have already been forgotten by the family? The time one’s memory lasts for prayer is, too, also limited. Someday, many — if not most — of us, will be enumerated among “the forgotten souls.”

Wednesday — My Extended Family Tree

Second, third, multiple removed cousins, relatives close and estranged, folks who were “part of the family” though I don’t know exactly how — all of them were part of my life. Am I part of their eternal life?

Thursday — Popes, Bishops and Priests

How many clergymen played a part in my life? The priest who baptized me? The priest who heard my first Confession? The priests who heard later confessions? The priest who gave me First Communion and those who gave me subsequent Communions? The bishop who confirmed me? The priest who witnessed my marriage? Maybe even the priest who anointed me? The priest who gave me good advice or good example? Through celibacy, they forego a family. Do I, in turn, acknowledge their sacrifice by praying for them, especially when they have gone before us?

Friday — All Religious Men and Women

How many of us were influenced by nuns or brothers? How many taught us, be it school or catechism? How many provided example? How many were parts of our lives? Are we now parts of theirs, especially when they also gave up a family to be part of our lives?

Saturday — Forgotten Souls in Purgatory

Let’s face it: most of us, unless we were very great or very notorious, will likely be forgotten, even by our families. Before God’s illumination at the judgment seat, human memory is often like milk: it has an expiration date.

I remember visiting the Armenian Cathedral in Lviv, Ukraine. The promenade from the monastery to the cathedral is lined with tombstones of deceased monks because, over time, the daily shuffle of the next generation to prayer effaces their names. So, in that great pool of the forgotten, do we join our prayers? The communion of saints is, after all, the best friendship society available — you are not going to find a better friend than one your prayers helped deliver to the joy of God.

We can pray for these intentions. We can do something extra, e.g., participate in a weekday Mass for their intention. When was the last time you actually arranged to have a Mass celebrated for someone — parents, grandparents, friends, enemies, forgotten souls? If it’s been a while, how about doing that? If your parish has limited possibilities, I’ve suggested some missionary priests ready to help. After all, the Catholic tradition does not think of death as merely a moment to “remember” someone or to “celebrate a life.” They are alive! They need our prayers, not our memories.

Consider, year-round, this cycle of suggested prayer. It should make you aware of two things: the great circle of those for whom you can pray, and the great circle of those ready to pray for you in reciprocity for the bonds of spiritual solidarity and charity.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them, Amen. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through God’s mercy and love, rest in peace. Amen.