Praying for Those Who Have Died Is a Work of Mercy

What is the value of one prayer? I suspect it is far greater than any of us imagine. Prayer changes things, sometimes in obvious ways, but more often in subtle and even paradoxical ways. But prayer is surely important, even when we don’t experience its immediate effects. Perhaps this is why Jesus taught us to pray always and never to lose heart (cf. Luke 18:1). St. Paul echoed this with the simple exhortation, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). St. James also warned, “You have not because you ask not” (James 4:2).

Praying for the living is a great and wondrous spiritual work of mercy; its value is beyond that of gold or pearls. What is the value of one prayer? The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man is powerful in in its effects (James 5:16). Prayer can avert war, bring healing, cause conversion, bestow peace and serenity, and call down mercy—sweet, necessary, and beautiful mercy. Prayer is a treasure of inestimable value.

Perhaps one of the greatest joys of Heaven will be seeing how much of a difference our prayers made, even the distracted and perfunctory ones. Maybe our simple utterance at the end of a decade of the rosary to “Save us from the fires of Hell” and to “Lead all souls to Heaven” will reach the heart of one lost soul, prompting him to answer the gentle call of God to return. Imagine that in Heaven that very sinner comes up to you and says, “Though we never met, your prayer reached me and God applied His power to me.” Imagine the joy of many such meetings in Heaven. Imagine, too, whom you will joyfully thank for their prayers, people you know and some you never met. But they prayed and the power of their prayers reached you.

While the value of praying for the living is not widely disputed, praying for the dead is a spiritual work of mercy that has suffered in recent decades. Too many Catholics today “miss a step” when a loved one dies. There are often immediate declarations that the deceased is “in Heaven” or “in a better place.” But Scripture doesn’t say that we go right to Heaven when we die. No, indeed. First, there is a brief stopover at the judgment seat of Christ.

The Letter to the Hebrews says, It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Heb 9:27). St. Paul writes, For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10).

Our deceased loved ones go to the judgment seat of Christ, and that is worth praying about!

What is the judgment for those who lived faithful lives? In such cases, the judgment is not merely about the ultimate destination of Heaven or Hell. The judgment would seem to be “Is My work in you complete?”

Indeed, the Lord has made all of us a promise: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mat 5:48). Such a beautiful promise! Yet most of us know that we are not in such a state now. If we were to die today it is clear that much work would still be required. Thus when we send our faithful loved ones to judgment, although we send them with hope, we are aware that finishing work may be necessary. Purgation and purification are necessary before entering Heaven, of which scripture says, Nothing impure will ever enter it (Rev 21:27).

Again, this is worth praying about. It is a great work of mercy we can extend to our deceased loved ones, to remember them with love and to pray, in the words of St. Paul, May God who has begun a good work in you bring it to completion (Phil 1:6). Pray often for the souls in Purgatory. Surely there are joys there for them, knowing that they are on their way to Heaven, but there are also sufferings that purgation must cause. St. Paul says of Purgatory, Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Cor 3:13-15). Yes, there is fire, but thank God it is a healing fire. There are tears, too, for Scripture says (regarding the dead) that Jesus will wipe every tear from their eyes (Rev 21:4).

How consoling and merciful our prayers must seem to our beloved who have died! Our prayers must seem like a gentle wind that speeds them along, onward and upward toward Heaven!

Praying for the dead, then, is the last and greatest spiritual work of mercy. By the grace of it, and through its help, souls attain the glory God has prepared for them from the foundation of the world.

5 Replies to “Praying for Those Who Have Died Is a Work of Mercy”

  1. A few months ago, my younger brother passed away unexpectedly. Like me, he was raised in Fundamentalist churches. I’m not sure if he was ever baptized — these churches are afraid that an emphasis on baptism will start them on the road to becoming Catholic. [As a convert myself, I can confirm that this is true.]

    Within an hour of hearing that he had died, I had requested a Gregorian sequence of Masses for him. Since then I have requested a second Gregorian sequence. I also started praying my rosary much more seriously, but I was seriously worried that this was too little, too late.

    After boarding the plane the next day to fly down to my family, our flight was delayed for a few minutes due to weather. I took the opportunity to discreetly pray 5 decades. To my surprise, the passenger in front of me turned and said, “Thank you for praying.” I told her that the prayer had not been for our flight and told her about my brother. She said she was also Catholic and would pray for him.

    When the flight landed, I spent about 5 minutes trying to get my laptop to work. It was no use — I think that, contrary to the signs, there was no WiFi in that part of the airport. Because I was a little late getting my bags and going to check out a rental car, I was surprised to run into the same passenger at the counter.

    After that, I had to do some shopping; there were some things I needed to pick up since I had left in a hurry. It was probably an hour before I checked into my hotel, which was about 20 miles from the airport. I was just finishing my registration when who should walk in but, once again, the passenger who had sat in front of me.

    I cannot be sure, but I very strongly suspect that this was not a coincidence. I believe that I was meant to pay attention to what she said: “THANK YOU FOR PRAYING.” I think it meant more than she knew, and I was not to become discouraged or lose hope.

  2. Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and let your perpetual light shine upon those gone ahead of us.

  3. Dear Grieving, I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. Lately I have been thinking that God so wants all of us in Heaven with him. Didn’t Jesus say something to that effect when he said He would be lifted up to bring all mankind to be with him? (I can’t remember the exact verse but the spirit of it has always stayed with me.) Your having Masses said is the best way to praise God and pray for your brother. Fr. Dwight Longenecker has an article from 2013 about his brother’s unbaptized Baptist friend who died in an airplane crash and the brother had a Mass said for him where there were signs that the young man was there with him. I sure want to believe stories like these are true and give us all hope for anyone we worry about that has not been baptized. Again, so sorry for your loss and I hope your days get better and better.

  4. My dad passed away over 12 years ago. Last October on his birthday I prayed the rosary and shed tears asking God to let me know where he was, still in Purgatory or in Heaven. I had Masses offered quite often the first year he died but it had dwindled as the years went by. Two days after praying I felt someone sit on my bed gently early in the morning. The same thing happened again two days later. I had the book READ ME OR RUE IT. Read it and began to have Masses offered every Saturday and Sunday for the repose of the soul of my dad and also for the Souls in Purgatory. Been a year now and will do so until I receive some indication that he is safe in Heaven.

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