Why do we pray for the dead?
The month of November is dedicated in a special way to prayer for the souls of the faithful departed. Our prayer for our departed family and friends is based on two interrelated doctrines: the communion of saints and the reality of purgatory.
The communion of saints is the bond of charity which unites the members of the Church on earth (the Church Militant), the Church in purgatory (the Church Suffering), and the Church in heaven (the Church Triumphant). Just as the saints in heaven help us by their prayers, we likewise can help the souls in purgatory – especially our departed family and friends and those who are most forgotten – by our prayers and good works and by having Masses said for them. “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins” (II Mach 12:46). From 1st to 8th November a plenary indulgence can be gained for the dead by visiting a cemetery.
Purgatory is a place or state of purification for the souls of those who, although they have died in the state of grace, still need to be fully purified before coming into God’s presence, since, “there shall not enter into it any thing defiled” (Rev 21:27). When we sin we turn away from God and turn towards some created thing. The sacrament of confession turns us back to God, but there remains in our soul an attachment to creatures: this imbalance needs to be corrected in this life through voluntary penances or else in the next life. Purgatory is a creation of God’s mercy designed to make souls ready for heaven. Because the members of the Church are united by a close bond of charity, those of us who are still living can help the souls in purgatory to pay off the temporal punishment still due for their sins. We can be sure that, once they reach heaven, they will gratefully remember our help! – Canon Altiere.