She was, by all measures, a saintly woman: lifelong devoted Catholic, faithful spouse, hardworking mother of nine, and bulwark of the community. My wife’s grandmother possessed seemingly superhuman reservoirs of vigor, humility, self-sacrifice, and charity. The priest at her funeral gave a good sermon, balancing praise for the woman with emphasis on God’s redemptive work in Christ and our hope in future glory. Yet not once did he mention Purgatory, nor the need for anyone there to pray for the deceased.
Grieve not? But We Do Grieve
The prayer card printed by the funeral home for my grandmother-in-law made no mention of Purgatory, either. It read:
Nor speak of me with tears…
But laugh and talk of me…
As though I were beside you.
I loved you so…
‘Twas heaven here with you.
Spending those days with my wife and her family, I thought: No, we should grieve the deceased and mourn their loss. Death is a painful, terrible reality. St. Paul declares that with Christ’s resurrection death had been defeated and lost its sting. He didn’t say we wouldn’t still suffer by it.
Heaven is not some Hallmark-contrived conception of earthly relationships, only nicer. It is the place to which God brings the faithful departed. There, God willing, we will someday join them. We cheapen both earth and Heaven by confusing them.
A few days after my wife’s grandmother died, my wife asked if I would offer up my Sunday Mass for her. “Of course,” I agreed. I had to sheepishly confess that I rarely intentionally offer my Mass for anyone. God gives us so many opportunities to effect a real, legitimate impact on the deceased, accelerating their movement to God their Father. “Yet how quickly we could empty Purgatory if we but really wished to,” says St. John Vianney.
Whenever I meet with my spiritual director, he always asks me if I’m praying for my deceased father. My dad died almost five years ago. Yet if he’s not in Heaven, who, besides me and maybe a few other Catholic family and friends, will help him get there?
To Pray Is To Remember
To pray for the deceased is to remember them, to spiritually approach them even if we can no longer be with them in the flesh. It helps us to mourn them in a helpful, productive manner. Praying for deceased family members, offering rosaries and Masses for them, has helped me maintain a union with those I would otherwise feel entirely distant from.
We can also request the prayers of those in Purgatory and Heaven. St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori notes: “For these blessed souls are His eternal spouses, and most grateful are they to those who obtain their deliverance from prison, or even a mitigation of their torments. When, therefore, they arrive in Heaven, they will be sure to remember all who have prayed for them.”
For a soul to enter Purgatory means he is on his way to Heaven — he just needs some help. With all due respect to a certain Pittsburgh priest and a certain Pittsburgh funeral home, I’m going to pray, maybe even with a few tears, for my wife’s grandmother. Please God, I hope there are people mindful enough to pray for me when I die. A prayer card with an invocation for my soul wouldn’t hurt, either.