Photo credit: Mulier Fortis
God, is supremely good, and is truth itself. His justice is not arbitrary but intimately bound up with the truth. If we sin against Him, it is impossible that we could be directly in His presence without first being forgiven our sins and purified of the damage that they have done to our soul. To see the beatific vision of God with the least stain of sin on our souls would be unbearable for us. God cannot change this any more than He can make a square circle or a good demon. It would be contrary to that reason and truth which He is.
In his mercy, God allows not only that we may be purified from our sins after we have died, but also that those on earth can help the holy souls in purgatory by their prayers. Offering such prayers is an important duty for us, not simply an optional extra devotion. We can classify three compelling reasons why we should fulfil this duty.
First, since God wishes all the holy souls to be in heaven, we do Him honour by offering our prayers and sacrifices, indulgences and Masses for them. Every Holy Mass is offered for all the living and the dead. When we pray for the dead, we participate in this vital part of the Mass, our highest act of worship.
Secondly, praying for the Holy Souls, especially those who have been forgotten by others, is a great act of charity. There are many souls whose families were unbelievers or, even if Catholics, did not choose to pray for their relatives but merely remembered them. Our concern and honour for the dead is a good and civilised thing but, as St Augustine pointed out, it benefits us, not the deceased person. What benefits them is our prayers.
In the case of our own relatives, friends and benefactors, praying for them is an act of piety in the true sense of the virtue which was even cherished by the pagans of Rome, a due reverence for those who have gone before us, educated us and helped us.
Thirdly, praying for the Holy Souls also helps us in our spiritual life because Our Lord wishes us to offer such prayers and blesses us with His grace when we fulfil this office. We certainly do not lose anything by praying for the dead and by offering our indulgences for them.
Our Christian community is not limited to those who are alive now. The Communion of Saints includes all of us in the Church militant, the Holy Souls who make up the Church suffering, and the saints in heaven who are the Church triumphant in eternal glory.
Praying for the dead reminds us of this extended communion. Although we are reminded of this practice during the month of November, it is something that we should do all year round by praying for the dead in our grace after meals, in our morning and night prayers, and as a part of our spiritual participation at the Mass when we join our prayers to Our Lady and all the Saints, hoping one day to be in their company.