Pray for the Dead, and the Return of the King

By Chris Sparks

Before All Souls’ Day, I went to the cemetery at dusk. Although it was locked, I managed to open the gate a bit and said, “If you need something, my dear little souls, I will be glad to help you to the extent that the rule permits me.” I then heard these words, “Do the will of God; we are happy in the measure that we have fulfilled God’s will.” (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 518)

Purgatory is one of the greatest marks of the realism of the Christian faith.

After all, human societies have for centuries embraced either ancestor worship or grave robbery. We either tend to divinize those who came before us or we damn them, erasing their memories, blaming them for all our problems, and casting them as devils.

The Jewish religion takes a different path. They carried the bones of their ancestors with them, setting the stage for the Church’s practice of venerating the relics of the saints and our adoration of the Eucharist. It’s all part of keeping the Ten Commandments, especially one commandment in particular:

“Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Ex 20:12).

Honor, not worship. And this commandment is forward looking, not simply locked on the past. Honor those who came before so that you may have a long future ahead of you.


In other words, always be thankful. Always recognize the blessings God has given you, beginning with the first and greatest of all: life itself, and a place in a family. We do absolutely nothing to earn our place in that family. It is simply given to us at our conception. We are never truly self-made individuals. The great fictions of libertarianism fall apart in the face of this commandment. Honor your father and mother. Take care of them as they age. Teach your children to do the same for you.

Honor your ancestors — but do not worship them, for God is God, not creatures. God alone is worthy of worship. “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven” (Mt 23:9). God Himself is our patriarch from the beginning. Our line, our tribe, our people begins with Him (see Lk 3:38). He is our Creator, not an earthly father. Our ancestors were fallen, all of them. Saint Paul told the Romans, “[A]ll have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), and so honoring our forebears includes praying for them. It includes offering sacrifice in reparation for their sins, as Judas Maccabeus knew (2 Macc 12:42-46).

Our ancestors were fallen human beings, not deities or demons. They are owed honor and commemoration, monuments and Masses, prayers and penances. Thus the left is rebuked: We are not to consign our ancestors to the outer darkness for their sins, but to honor and remember them. Thus the right is rebuked: There was no golden age of perfect human beings populating the earth, but rather a bare handful of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the greatest of saints strung like pearls across history.

Thus modernity is rebuked: We are not progressing toward earthly perfection, for the only perfect human beings have already lived and are in Heaven. Rather, we progress toward a supernatural destiny, the marriage of Heaven and earth, the union of matter and spirit so that God shall be all in all (see 1 Cor 15:28).

We are on a pilgrimage toward the marriage of Heaven and earth, of God and creation, of which the Mass is a sign and an early instance of that union. That is the meaning of the Solemnity of Christ the King, which we will be celebrating this Sunday in this month dedicated to remembering the Holy Souls in Purgatory. We honor those who have come before and so we prepare ourselves for our future. We remember the dead, including Christ, and look forward to the resurrection of the dead, of whom Christ is the firstfruits.

So we are summoned to two different types of prayer for the dead this November and every November. We are summoned first to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory so that their path to Heaven may be short. Secondly, we are to pray for all those who have died, that in their final moments, they might have accepted the mercy of God and so be on the path home to Heaven.

We have well-founded grounds for such hope in the Divine Mercy, as Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, and Br. Jason Lewis, MIC, explain so well in their book After Suicide: There’s Hope for Them and for You. They draw from St. Faustina's Diary, in which she speaks of the final grace God extends to souls (Diary, 1486), a final grace that is incredibly powerful.

I often attend upon the dying and through entreaties obtain for them trust in God’s mercy, and I implore God for an abundance of divine grace, which is always victorious. God’s mercy sometimes touches the sinner at the last moment in a wondrous and mysterious way. Outwardly, it seems as if everything were lost, but it is not so. The soul, illumined by a ray of God’s powerful final grace, turns to God in the last moment with such a power of love that, in an instant, it receives from God forgiveness of sin and punishment, while outwardly it shows no sign either of repentance or of contrition, because souls [at that stage] no longer react to external things. Oh, how beyond comprehension is God’s mercy! But — horror! — there are also souls who voluntarily and consciously reject and scorn this grace! Although a person is at the point of death, the merciful God gives the soul that interior vivid moment, so that if the soul is willing, it has the possibility of returning to God. But sometimes, the obduracy in souls is so great that consciously they choose hell; they [thus] make useless all the prayers that other souls offer to God for them and even the efforts of God Himself... (Diary, 1698).

So the two most powerful forces in the universe are Divine Mercy and free will. That is why it’s so important for us to choose to trust in Jesus, to abide in trust in the Divine Mercy Incarnate. And if we trust, our prayers will matter all the more. The graces we obtain for the dying will be as great as our trust (see Diary, 1578).

So we pray for those who died long ago, hoping for their salvation and for their assistance to us now and in days to come. We pray that Christ will have been merciful to our ancestors in the hopes that He will be merciful to us in the future, that we may live long in the land, in the new and eternal Jerusalem, to which Divine Mercy wants to bring us. We pray for the dying, and pray for the Second Coming of Christ. Here in November, at the dying of the liturgical year, we thank God for the past. We honor our ancestors and our parents, those who have died and those who are still here with us on earth. And we look forward, beginning to prepare for Advent and Christmas, continuing our long watch till the return of Christ the King.

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

Photo by Kenny Stier on Unsplash


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