Masses of Mercy: Why We Offer Prayers for the Dead

The Church is a good mother who provides a number of ways to help ensure prayers for the dearly departed.

(photo: Shutterstock)

Parishioner Ray Nullman at Prince of Peace Church in Taylors, South Carolina, has several Masses offered during the year for loved ones and friends who have died. He also schedules Masses beyond the current year, always trying to have Masses on special anniversaries and other times he can attend.

“I always try to get my wife, Carol, in on Palm Sunday,” Nullman said, explaining that she died nearly 14 years ago. He gives stipends to have Masses said for the repose of the souls of his sisters and also “neighbors from a long time ago, when we were in Long Island. There was a closeness there.”

“We give any help we can give them now,” he said. “[Then] maybe we will need their help.”

November may be the month dedicated to remembering the souls of those who have died — All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1 celebrates those who are indisputably in heaven, while the next day, All Souls’ Day, the Church prominently prays for those who are still traveling there via purgatory — but praying for the departed and having Masses said for them is an all-year obligation.

Like Nullman, family and friends often have Masses said for the repose of the departed they knew and loved.

The Church is a good mother who provides a number of ways to help ensure prayers for the dearly departed.


Mass Remembrances

In the Archdiocese of Detroit, the diocesan cemeteries Holy Sepulchre and Our Lady of Hope hold a monthly Mass in their chapels for all those buried there and in the associated cemeteries that do not have a monthly Mass.

But the Church remembers all of the faithful departed at every Mass.

“When we have the Prayers of the Faithful, we bring up the suffering souls in purgatory. In a way, they’re always remembered by the congregation, if not specifically by the family,” said Vincentian Father Michael Shea at the National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Philadelphia.

In the Eucharistic Prayers, the priest prays, “Grant them, O Lord, we pray, and all who sleep in Christ, a place of refreshment, light and peace (I); remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection, and all who have died in your mercy: Welcome them into the light of your face (II); to our departed brothers and sisters and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to your kingdom” (III).


Mercy for Loved Ones

One of the important spiritual works of mercy is praying for the living and the dead. So reminds Father Chris Alar of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception: “From the teaching of the Church, it’s extremely important we pray for the dead. We have a directive from the Church.”

Father Alar notes that Scripture gives evidence of praying for the dead, and doing so was evident in early Christianity and in Judaism.

These prayers are vital from the spiritual aspect of the communion of saints and the Mystical Body of Christ, pointed out Father Shea. “We’re not totally separated. We still have that spiritual interconnection with one another.”

“One part of the body can assist the other part of the body,” added Father Alar.

A visual picture can help us understand the spiritual need to help one another in the Mystical Body. Said Father Shea, “I hurt my foot, so my right hand helps my foot.”

A major way to help that “hurt” is to have Masses said for the repose of the souls of those we know.


Special Offerings

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (958) states, “Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”

Father Alar observed, “One of the reasons it’s so charitable to pray for the dead is because the dead cannot help themselves. The founder of our congregation, St. Stanislaus Papczynski, said that the greatest act of charity is to pray for the souls in purgatory because they cannot pray for themselves.”

Offering Masses and saying prayers for the holy souls in purgatory has two-way benefits.

“When they do get to heaven, they pray for me and will help release my soul, as I did for them,” Father Alar explained. “That is guaranteed. That’s the beauty of the Mystical Body of Christ: The souls we help release today become our biggest advocates.”

In addition to single Masses offered, we can also enroll each person with one of the religious congregations’ spiritual benefit societies, which offer remembrances, especially in Masses.

Father Shea said the enrollment cards at the Miraculous Medal Shrine have clear designations, such as remembering the deceased person for a year, or five years, or even perpetually, in daily Masses. Often the spiritual benefits include remembrance in the daily prayers and good works of each member of the congregation. It is the same with the Association of Marian Helpers, where Father Alar serves as director.


Help Yourself Now and Later

The Church teaches it is not selfish to want prayers and Masses said for us when we die. Take St. Monica’s word for it. She told her son, St. Augustine: “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you: that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.”

We can make sure we won’t be forgotten in individual Masses and enrollments, too.

Recommended Father Shea, “Make a will and set aside money for that,” indicating that so many Masses should be said for you.

“If you want to be prayed for specifically, join a spiritual association,” suggested Father Alar. These groups, like the Association of Marian Helpers, offer many spiritual benefits. Anyone living or deceased may be enrolled in the association and receive the graces that normally include remembrances in daily Masses.

For the Marian Helpers enrollees, benefits include remembrance in a daily Mass celebrated for them, Mass offered for members on First Fridays and First Saturdays and for deceased members on All Souls’ Day, a special Mass on each feast of our Savior and his Blessed Mother, the daily Divine Mercy Chaplet at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and daily prayers of all the Marian priests and brothers praying for them, their families and loved ones. Plus, members pray for each other.

If you enroll yourself perpetually now while you’re living, what happens when you die? That enrollment would continue, said Father Alar. “None of the benefits stop when you die.”

We can add another level by depositing merits into the Church’s treasury of graces though our sacrifices and prayers, united to Christ and offered to God.

“It’s like this beautiful big bank account of grace, like a retirement plan,” explained Father Alar. “You put those graces in that treasury so that when you die you can receive the graces others have deposited.”

Yet another way of helping ourselves, as well as others later, is by having Masses offered now.

On its website, Prince of Peace Church informs all parishioners that St. Anselm, a doctor of the Church, declared a single Mass offered for yourself during life “may be worth more than a thousand celebrated for the same intention after your death. The merit of the Masses we have offered for ourselves during life will obtain for us a higher degree of glory in heaven, since we have made the meritorious sacrifice of offering the stipend for the Mass.”

The Church explains that the Masses offered during our life go before us and “may greatly shorten our purgatory. … Masses offered for us during our life can help us obtain the great grace of a happy and holy death,” as the Prince of Peace website explains.

What a beautiful gift!

Joseph Pronechen is a

Register staff writer.

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