By Fr Martin Graham
Last month, as many of you know, my mum died. She had been ill for 18 years and this last year was especially rough. Although she would have been only 65 this Tuesday she was just worn out and she wanted God to take her. Over and over at the Wake people said to us that she has it all over her and she is certainly in Heaven, instant canonisation, instantly a Saint. I hope so…but I cannot presume so.
I cannot presume so because mum had her faults, like we all have our faults. Heaven is a place of absolute joy, absolute peace but also a place of absolute perfection; no trace of infirmity exists there but at the same time there can be no trace of sin. And so the Catholic faith has always taught that we must be purified before can enter Heaven, we must be rid of all imperfections on our souls and the place where that all happens is Purgatory.
Contrary to what most people believe Purgatory is not a sort of mini-Hell; the whole essence of Purgatory is that it is not a place of punishment but a place of healing. If you think of a sin like a nail; when we commit a sin we put a nail into the wall, when we go to Confession Our Lord’s forgiveness is like Him taking the nail out of the wall but…there’s still a hole left, a mark. Purgatory fills in all these holes and restores the wall, restores our souls, to a pristine condition.
The Catholic Faith takes praying for the dead so so seriously. In every Mass the dead are prayed for and on All Soul’s Day these Masses are specifically said for them but also to remind us of the need for us to pray for them. They are known as the ‘Poor Souls’ because they rely on us to help them with our prayers, as we would pray for someone here on Earth. We must not instantly canonise someone, if we do that we are in grave danger of not praying for them.
But what happens if we pray for someone we know who has died, but they have gone through Purgatory and are now in Heaven? What happens to those prayers? Catholicism teaches that they are certainly not wasted. Saint Matthew’s Gospel tells us “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven”. Every time we do something good for God, we “store up treasure in Heaven.” And so there is truly a treasury of good deeds in Heaven, “The Treasury of Merit” – in other words like a bank storing people’s money, this treasury stores the prayers and good deeds of Our Lady and all the Saints, stores our prayers, our good and godly deeds, and when we pray for the Holy Souls those prayers are added to this Treasury and God applies them to people who are not prayed for, the souls in Purgatory that are in most need of them, perhaps some of our own relatives.
There are many prayers we can offer for the dead but at this time the best way this is done is by gaining the Plenary Indulgence; when we say the prayers to gain a Plenary Indulgence not just is the time a soul in Purgatory lessened but by being flooded by God’s grace that soul is restored to perfection and admitted into Paradise. The Plenary Indulgence can be gained every day between the 1st and 8th November but this whole month is the Month of the Holy Souls; it is so important for us to pray for the dead and if our loved ones have already arrived in Heaven then it is worthwhile remembering that the prayer is not wasted; God will redirect it to some other soul who has no one to pray for them, some other soul whose relatives do not see the need to pray for them. Now they have passed beyond our care it is the only thing, but also the best thing, we can possibly do for them.
Blessed are they who have died in the Lord, may their good deeds, and our prayers, go with them. May they rest in peace. Amen.