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November 1, 2015

A question that non-Catholics ask is this: Why do you Catholics pray to saints?  Why don't you pray directly to God?  The answer is that we do pray directly to God, especially in every Mass.  No relationship is more important than our relationship with God.  But our relationship with our Christian brothers and sisters is also important.  We are all members of the Body of Christ.  We are community.  We are family.

The seriousness with which we have always taken this relationship with one another is seen in the Apostles' Creed, which dates backto the earliest days of Christianity.  One of the twelve articles of the Creed read "We believe in the communion of saints" (the word saints is used here in the biblical sense of referring to followers of Jesus).  The communion of saints professes our faith in the belief that we belong to a larger community or family than the faith family or the human family here on earth.  We belong to those who have gone before us or will come after us.  The communion of saints, therefore, includes three groups:

  1. The Church in pilgrimage (on earth).
  2. The Church in purgation (in purgatory).
  3. The Church in perfection (in heaven).

Early inscriptions in the catacombs witness to the fact that early Christians prayed for the dead and asked the dead to pray for them.  They believed that if they prayed for one another on earth, why should not they continue to do so now that their loved ones were dead.  Loved ones do not cease to be family members just because they now in different dimensions of reality.  Catholic attitude toward the saints who have died is summed up in this prayer to God:

For you are praised in the company of your saints

And, in crowning their merits,

You crown your own gifts.

By their way of life,

You give us an example,

By communion with them

You give us companionship,

By their intercession, sure support.

So that, encouraged by so great a cloud of witnesses,

We may run as victors in the race before us and win

The imperishable crown or glory.

(Preface I of Saints)

Besides the saints, in the month of November, as Catholics, we pray for those who have gone before us and undergo the process of purification in a place called “Purgatory.”  You can’t find the word ‘Purgatory’ in the Bible, but you can find the idea.  Jesus himself implied that some sins must be atoned for in the next world when he spoke about the unforgivable sin of refusing to ask forgiveness (Mt 12: 32).  Jesus also spoke about a certain prison where souls will be sent for certain sins.  They will not be released until the last penny of their debt has been paid (Mt 5: 6).  St. Paul spoke of those whose work in this world is not perfect, yet they are saved as through fire (1Cor 3: 14).

Even the Old Testament points to a Purgatory. Judas Machabaeus, the Jewish leader, took collection and set aside sacrifices to be offered for the dead.  “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins” (2Mac 12: 46).

The holy souls cannot merit any longer and they cannot commit sin.  They cannot help themselves but they can help us.  They suffer mainly because they cannot be with God and see God face to face.  They suffer a cleansing pain that can be compared to the pain of fire.  But they do have joys; they are absolutely sure that they will get to heaven.

Many of these souls are loved ones of ours.  We can help them by our prayers, our good works, and especially by the holy sacrifice of the Mass in which we pray: “Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again; bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence.” Purgatory highlights many of the main truths about God.  It fulfils the deepest desires of human heart.  Pray for the holy souls.  Offer Mass for them.  Help them and they will help us.  I didn’t know my dad.  He died when I was only 1 year old.  I did pray for him and then one day before I escaped I prayed to him this way: “Dad, you died so early and had no part in my life.  You should perform your duty as my dad.  Now I’m about to face the danger of the sea, please pray for God’s protection that I’ll be safe.”  And you know, many died on the sea.  Many more attempted dozen of times and never succeeded and I got through the ocean at the first attempt.    Have you ever had that kind of experience?  If you have not, try it.  It worked for me, it will work for you.

May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace!