The Importance of Praying for the Dead, All Souls’ Day, November 2, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
The Commemoration of All The Faithful Departed, All Souls’ Day
First of Three Masses
November 2, 2013
2 Macc 12:38-46, Ps 25, 1 Thess 4:13-18, Lk 23:33.39-43

To listen to an audio recording of this Mass, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily:

  • Today we come together to fulfill the sweetest of all the spiritual works of mercy, which is to pray for the dead, especially our deceased loved ones and those who have no one to pray for them. We come here to pray with faith, because, except for a baptized baby who died in infancy or a canonized saint, we simply don’t know the state of our loved ones after death. Jesus told us emphatically not to judge, and this means not only not to condemn to hell someone we thought was evil but also not to place in heaven someone we thought good, for only God sees the heart. As so on All Souls Day and throughout the month of November, we pray for those who lived, to our eyes, a good and holy life, who cared for Christ in the hungry and poor, who died with the sacraments. We also pray for those who lived, by human impressions, a life far from God, his sacraments and commandments, and who may have died in objectively sinful circumstances. We pray for them all, entrusting them to God’s mercy, knowing that in the communion of saints, our prayers and good deeds can in fact help them.
  • The first reading from the Second Book of Maccabees gives us a very good reason to pray for the dead. When Judas Maccabeus and his soldiers went to bury their fellow soldiers who had died on the battlefield seeking to defend the Jews from the Greeks who were trying to destroy their religion, they anticipated that they were going to be interring true heroes who had paid the supreme sacrifice for God and for their people. But they discovered that under the tunic of each of the dead, they found pagan amulets and idols. Only those who had had these idols, only those who had removed themselves from the Lord’s protection and gone over to pagan gods, had died that day. But Judas had known that they had been good men who had signed up against great odds for battle, but somehow they had lost their way. It tells us that they prayed that their sinful deed might be blotted out. Judas took up a collection among all the soldiers, something that amounted to two-thousand silver drachmas, to send it to Jerusalem for a sacrifice in expitation for their sins. And the inspired author tells us, “In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view;  for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death.  But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.  Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.”
  • Likewise with our beloved dead, we never know if they might have been hiding some sins out of fear or weakness. And so we come here to do something far more important than sending two-thousand silver drachmas (about $1,300 today) to Jerusalem for a sacrifice of atonement. We come to offer to the eternal Father the body, blood, soul and divinity of his dearly beloved Son, in expiation for our sins, the sins of our loved ones, and the sins of the whole world.
  • We come in the words of the Psalm, lifting up our soul to God and asking him, for ourselves and our loved ones, to remember us in his kindness, to take away all our sins, to preserve our life and not let us be put to shame.
  • We are uplifted by Jesus’ actions in the Gospel, taken from when Jesus himself was dying to answer those prayers. His first words from the Cross were “Father, forgive them for they now not what they do!,” a prayer that stretched, we pray, to those in Judas Maccabeus’ armies, to those who were hammering him to the beams of the Cross, to those we know and love and to all others. And in his second word, Jesus made that desire for forgiveness quite personal with the Good Thief. When Dismas asked with faith to the Crucifixion victim in the middle to remember him when he entered his kingdom, to a man who would die before even Dismas would die, it was a sign that he recognized something different, that he would be capable of remembering even after he breathed his last. And Jesus responded not just that he would remember Dismas, but that he would take Dismas with him. “Amen I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise!” Today we ask for what the Good Thief asked for, not only for ourselves, but for our loved ones and all those who have died.
  • And because we, like Dismas, have faith in Jesus, we grieve our loved one’s deaths but we grieve differently from all the rest, as St. Paul tells the Thessalonians in the second reading. We mourn our faithful departed because we love and miss them, but we mourn with hope, with hope that Jesus will receive our expiatory sacrifice offered with faith today and apply them to the benefit of our deceased loved ones if they are in need of our prayers and sacrifices. Pope Benedict, in his 2007 encyclical on Christian hope, described how our prayers for our beloved dead manifest that we Christians grieve differently from all the rest. “The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death — this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today.” All Souls’ Day is an occasion on which all Catholics are able to put into practice that “fundamental conviction” with a love that not even death can destroy.
  • Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace! Amen!

The readings for the Mass were: 

A Reading from the Second Book of Maccabees (2 Macc 12:38-46)
Judas rallied his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the week was ending, they purified themselves according to custom and kept the sabbath there.  On the following day, since the task had now become urgent, Judas and his men went to gather up the bodies of the slain and bury them with their kinsmen in their ancestral tombs.  But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had been slain.  They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden.  Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas warned the soldiers to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen.  He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view;  for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death.  But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.  Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin. The Word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 25)

R. To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.

Remember that your compassion, O Lord,
And your kindness are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
Because of your goodness, O Lord.

R. To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.

Relieve the troubles of my heart,
And bring me out of my distress.
Put an end to my affliction and my suffering;
And take away all my sins.

R. To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.

Preserve my life and rescue me;
Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me,
Because I wait for you, O Lord.

 A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (1 Thess 4:13-18)

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore, console one another with these words. The Word of the Lord.

Alleluia Verse and Verse Before the Gospel
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke (Lk 23:33.39-43)
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.”  The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?  And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” The Gospel of the Lord