Asking the priest to pray for a deceased person at Mass
The Lord Jesus commands his disciples to love God and their neighbor. Love for our neighbor includes our concern for their bodily needs, e.g. food for the hungry, and for their spiritual needs. Historically, the seven spiritual works of mercy are considered to be: instructing the ignorant, counselling or advising the doubtful, comforting or consoling the sorrowful and afflicted, forgiving those who injure us, bearing wrongs patiently, and praying for the living and the dead. These spiritual works of mercy are both acts of penance, when we undertake them to make up for the wrongs we have done, and acts of charity, when we undertake them purely out of love for our neighbor in their need. Whenever we perform either corporal or spiritual works of mercy, we are fostering our own growth in holiness as well as contributing to the good of the others.
Our Catholic faith also holds that the living and the dead continue to be bound together in faith and love in the one Body of Christ. We have only to reflect on our own experience to verify this. We still love those close to us who have died; our love for them has not ended in death. We believe that those we love are meant to live forever and that we will be reunited with them one day. These convictions remain very strong, undeniable, even when we are confronted by the reality of death. In addition to these very human sentiments that all people share, we also have the promise of Jesus that those who are united to Him will be with Him in paradise. That is our hope—to join our loved ones again one day with Christ.
None of our lives is perfect. All of us, no matter how good, have committed wrongs and felt the effects of sin. Even when these wrongs are forgiven by God, the effects of our wrongdoing on ourselves and those around us remain. This must be healed before we can enter into the presence of God who is all holy, and before whom nothing that is not holy can exist. For those who died in God’s friendship and grace, this final state of healing or purification is what we call purgatory. It prepares us to see God face to face with no shadow or stain from this life.
All of us, from the first moment of our life to its last, depend on the help and goodness of others in one way or another. None of us has completely been the master of our destiny; we have relied on so many good things handed on to us from those who came before us. That exchange of good things among us on earth does not end in death, just like our love for our deceased relatives and friends does not end. We still want to help them, and they want to help us. Through prayer, we help the dead so that they can be fully cleansed and ready to enter God’s presence.
We can pray for the dead in any way we choose and at any time. We can participate at Mass at any time with the intention of praying for one or more of our deceased loved ones. We can receive Communion at Mass with that intention in mind. We can also ask the celebrant of the Mass to pray for a deceased loved one. Praying for the person we designate becomes the specific intention of the priest when he offers Mass, along with the general intention he has of praying for the good of the whole world and all the dead. This is a way of asking the priest to join us in praying for our deceased loved one.
Finally, another way to add to our own prayer for the dead is by making a monetary offering to the priest, customarily $10, as a symbolic way of supporting his living expenses. Not only does the priest pray for our loved one at our request, but our willingness to support the priest who is actually offering the Mass for this intention is another way of participating materially, as well as spiritually, in the Mass itself. All these ways of praying for the dead and offering charity toward the priest because of them can be a way to accomplish good on their behalf in their spiritual need. Just as we continue to remember them in prayer, we also count on our deceased loved ones who stand before God to pray on our behalf in our need now. Asking the priest to offer Mass with a specific intention for one or more of our deceased loved ones fosters this beautiful exchange of good things between ourselves in this world and our departed relatives and friends in the next.
Msgr. Marc Caron