Why do Catholics pray for the dead? If Catholics pray for those still on earth, why not continue to pray for them after they die? Some Christians would reply that immediately after death, you go directly to Heaven or to Hell. If you’re in Heaven, you have no need of prayers. If you’re in Hell, prayers will do you no good. In short, they don’t pray for the dead because they don’t believe, as Catholics do, in Purgatory.
What exactly is Purgatory? The Catechism says, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification” (1030–1031).
Sacred Scripture and Tradition affirm that God’s ultimate intention is for us to become perfect, as He is perfect, to become like Him so that we can know, love, and enjoy Him fully in Heaven forever (see Matthew 5:48, Hebrews 12:14; 1 John 3:2–3). In fact, Heaven simply wouldn’t be Heaven unless those who lived there had been perfected. If we were to bring along with us all the sins and weaknesses we have in this life, we would be just as miserable in Heaven as we are on earth — for all eternity!
Yes, Christ died to forgive us our sins and save us. But even those who have escaped, through His infinite merits, the penalty of Hell — an eternity without God — find that sin has countless other consequences. It disorders our souls, injures others, and leaves us overly attached to things we love more than our love for God.
If we’re to live with God forever, then, we must be healed and make amends. If we’re selfish, we must learn to love. If we’re deceitful, we must become truthful. If we’re addicted, we must break the addictions. If we’re bitter, we must forgive.
However, whether in this life or the next, God doesn’t wave a magic wand, bypassing our free will, to fix us. Instead, we must cooperate with His grace to undo what we have done: paying our debts, letting go of whatever binds us and straightening out whatever is crooked within us.
This process has already begun in our lives on earth. Through doing penance and accepting in faith the inescapable sufferings of this life, we can be purged of sin’s effects and grow in holiness. Nevertheless, few seem to be perfect when they leave this world. They still need some purification, a painful but purging “fire,” as Scripture calls it (see 1 Corinthians 3:14–15).
That’s precisely why we pray and offer Masses for those in Purgatory. As Scripture tells us, our intercession helps them: “For it is . . . a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins” (2 Maccabees 12:46, Douay).
Ever since my family and I joined the Catholic Church in 2006, we have invited our parish priest over for good wine, steaks and joyful conversation. It’s a family practice I look forward to having when I have children someday, since it fostered in me a vision of religious life I hold very close to my heart. It introduced me to religious life at a young age and has given me a deep love for those who have given their lives in service to Our Lord.
Of all the ways we can work toward the increase of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, prayer is undoubtedly the most essential. By making a commitment to pray for this intention every day as a family, you allow the Holy Spirit to work in each other’s hearts. It opens our minds to how we are called to serve the Lord. It is also important to consider praying for your parish priest, seminarian or postulant.
Priests are human, just like you. They are in need of friendship, family, love and community. Inviting them to your home, sharing a meal, taking a walk and conversing about the joys of life are great ways to build relationship and welcome religious vocations into your home. Friendships with religious foster awareness, communication and respect for the lifestyle into the family, and in turn, build community with our priests.
If you believe your child is discerning the priesthood or religious life, foster that discernment by surrounding them with priests and religious! It is a beautiful way to watch the Holy Spirit move through their hearts and helps your children to discern their personal vocations.
Through Baptism, each of us receives special gifts and talents. These gifts and talents are given to us by God, so that we can encounter Him through who we are. It is extremely important to reflect as a family about each person’s gifts and talents. This helps the family to discern how they can love God and use their gifts for His Mission. There is a place for each of your unique gifts in the Church.
When a child’s parent encourages them to be attentive to God’s voice, they are more free to discern what vocation God is calling them to. God, our loving Father, desires to encounter us through how we use our gifts and talents. Help your children to understand where they can have a deeper relationship to Him through their own gifts.