Praying for those who go before us

– Friday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time –

“[W]hen you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.” (Luke 12:58-59)

This passage from today’s gospel is one of a raft of scriptural passages that provide the basis for the Catholic belief in the existence of Purgatory – that place where, by a process of spiritual purification, imperfect souls are prepared for the beatific vision.

That Jesus is speaking in a spiritual rather than earthly sense is implied by his use of the word ‘accuser’/‘adversary’ (in Greek, antidikou) in Luke 12:58, a title Peter applies to the devil (1 Peter 5:8) and which describes his behaviour elsewhere in the Bible (see Zechariah 3:1; Revelation 12:10). It seems this passage also ought to be read together with another passage in the same chapter of Luke’s Gospel (verses 43-48) in which Jesus – speaking in the context of his second coming and the final judgement – identifies the existence of three spiritual states: the place where the faithful will permanently reside (heaven); the place where the unfaithful will permanently reside (hell); and the place where the imperfect – who suffer various degrees of purifying chastisement – will temporarily reside while preparing for their entry into heaven (purgatory).

There is a tendency nowadays that, when a loved one dies, the emphasis at the funeral is on ‘celebrating’ his or her life. While we should, of course, be grateful for the gift of the dearly departed and their achievements, it is important to keep in mind that, for many souls, they have not yet reached their destination. The primary purpose of a funeral Mass is not simply to celebrate a life lived, but to pray for that person, and to implore God’s mercy upon their soul as they seek entry into eternal blessedness.

As we approach All Souls Day on November 2, let us turn our minds to our departed loved ones. Let us acknowledge their existence in the present tense, let us pray for them in their longing to see the face of God, and let us keep reminding ourselves that there is more to life than this earthly sojourn.

by Mark Makowiecki

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