November is traditionally known as “All Souls” month in the Catholic Church. It is the time when Catholics remember the dead in prayer, especially at Masses offered for deceased relatives and friends.
Sadly, many Catholics have left behind this venerable and ancient practice of praying for the dead. No longer do the faithful fill churches on All Souls Day or have Masses offered for the deceased. Too often, prayers for the dead are seen as an unnecessary burden or unneeded obligation of days gone by.
Not surprisingly, a good number of Catholic parishes witness Mass books empty of names, as offering a Mass for the repose of a dead relative’s or friend’s soul seems uncalled — for in a culture that is lacking in faith and dismissing of traditions.
Too often, faithful and devout Catholics who have died are denied a funeral Mass by children or relatives who themselves have become lax in the practice of the faith or simply wish to make the burial of a relative a quick and easy dispatch.
These troublesome trends in our culture point to a serious problem regarding the proper respect for the dead and as well as efficacious nature of the Mass. This disturbing trend, accompanied with the general confusion many Catholics suffer regarding heaven, purgatory and hell, has led to many Catholics neglecting or dismissing the church’s teaching on both. As a result, the secularized and confused Catholic too often opts for an immediate canonization of departed loved ones, rather then the commendation of the dead to the mercy of God.
The church has never stopped calling forth prayers for the dead nor denied the reality of purgatory as respect for the dead still has a preeminent place in Catholicism. This respect must include a dignified Mass of Christian Burial for the deceased in which the souls of the faithful departed are commended to God’s merciful judgment. Yet, all too often, Catholics can be found suggesting that “funerals are for the living, not the dead.” A funeral Mass is an opportunity to praise and thank God for his abundant love and mercy toward the deceased, to offer pray for the repose of the soul of the departed, and to provide the family with comfort and consolation. Prayers for the dead cannot be an arbitrary decision but must remain an essential part of the Catholic faith life.
During this All Souls month of November, let us pause from the frantic pace of our daily lives and stop to offer prayers for all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. Call your local parish and request Masses to be offered for your deceased relatives and friends. Recall the wisdom of St. John Chrysostom in the fourth century: “Let us help and commemorate the dead. If Job’s sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”