Why do we pray for the dead and have Masses for them? — Kimberly
This is a great question. One might not readily think there would be a consoling and succinct answer to this question found in a liturgical text. But there is.
We often think of the books we use for the liturgy only as a collection of prayers and instructions. However, they actually contain beautiful explanations and theological discourses that explain not only the sacraments and how they are to be prayed, but pastoral explanations that give the “why” behind the “what” we celebrate. In my ministry as director of divine worship and emcee for Bishop David Ricken, it is part of my responsibilities to know and be able to explain not only the various rites and orders the church celebrates, but also to help people understand the mystery these rites and orders unfold in our lives.
We actually encounter a great answer to the above question in the Order of Christian Funerals — the ritual text we use for funerals and funeral Masses. In paragraph four, the text states the following:
“At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of baptism and strengthened at the Eucharistic table, the church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end nor does it break the bonds forged in life. The church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting word of God and the sacrament of the Eucharist.”
The text states further: “Christians celebrate the funeral rites to offer worship, praise (and) thanksgiving to God for the gift of a life which has now been returned to God, the author of life and the hope of the just.” (n. 5)
Summing this all up, the church prays for the deceased out of honor, praise and thanksgiving for the gift of the life of the faithfully departed and to request that the soul of the faithfully departed might rest in peace.
This leads into the other part of the question: why we include the dead in the intentions in future Masses. This includes other potential questions that one might have about a deceased loved one, but we do believe that our prayer for the faithfully departed actually has an effect. It assists the departed in their journey from a state of purgation from venial sin and the stain of sin in general into the beatific vision where one is eternally in the presence of God.
May the souls of all the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen!
Johnson is divine worship director for the Diocese of Green Bay.