November is here. When we think of the month of November, we think of our dear departed. On November 2nd we celebrated All Souls Day. In many parts of the world Catholics visit the graves of their loved ones on that day and pray for them. As is our custom, we had a special Mass of Remembrance on Saturday, November 7th for all our family members who passed away this year. As we remember our deceased, we offer not only a prayer of thanks for what they mean to us but also a prayer of intercession in case they still need our prayers.
More than thirteen years ago my dear mother passed away. Her death has been one of the most painful events of my life and I still wonder how I got through it. I remember fighting with the Lord on the flight back after the funeral and I kept complaining to Him that His sense of timing was lousy. I was supposed to visit her in November 2002 and she passed away in July. One thing that got me through that very difficult time was the Memorial Mass that we celebrated in my former parish with my friends and family. Offering a Mass for my mom meant far more than I had expected. When my mother died, I felt totally helpless. The thought that her passing was definitive and that I would not see her in this life made me feel utterly lost. When we celebrated the Memorial Mass I realized that all connections did not unravel. Suddenly the Communion of Saints became palpable and real. I could pray for her just as she was praying for me. From then on, I prayed to both my parents whenever I found myself in any type of difficulty.
I would like to encourage all of us to hold on to this uniquely Catholic practice: to pray for the dead. We believe that once we cross over to the other side we cannot help ourselves. However, the living can always help us. There is no better way to pray for our dear departed than to offer the Eucharist for them. For centuries Catholics have offered Masses for the dead and that continues to be the custom in many parts of the world. I know that we would like to offer a Mass for a person or an intention on a Sunday when the whole parish is present. I want to emphasize that offering a Mass on a weekday is no less valuable because the community of the whole Church joins in praying with us at that Mass even though only a few parishioners are present.
Although this custom of offering Masses for the dead has been a long-running practice in the Church, it was the Council of Trent that gave its official approval. In its Decree on the Mass, the Council said that the sacrifice of the Mass is “properly offered not only for the sins, penalties, satisfactions, and other needs of the faithful who are living but also for the departed in Christ who are not yet fully cleansed.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reiterates this belief and to bolster its claims quotes an early Father of the Church, St Cyril of Jerusalem. After the saint asks his Christians not to be concerned where they bury his body, he requests them remember him at the altar of the Lord. Then he goes on to say:
Then, we pray [in the anaphora] for the holy fathers and bishops who have fallen asleep, and in general for all who have fallen asleep before us, in the belief that it is a great benefit to the souls on whose behalf the supplication is offered, while the holy and tremendous Victim is present… By offering to God our supplications for those who have fallen asleep, if they have sinned, we … offer Christ sacrificed for the sins of all, and so render favorable, for them and for us, the God who loves man.
While we offer Masses for our dear departed, let us not forget that we can offer Masses also for the living. When I was growing up in India, my parents always had a Mass celebrated for each of the children on our birthdays. Often people offer Masses in thanksgiving for graces received. To offer a Mass for someone we love on their birthday or wedding anniversary is far more precious than any gift we can give them. I would like to invite all our parishioners to help the deceased members of their families by offering Masses for them.
Even as we mourn the loss of our dear ones let us nurture our hope of eternal life. As we hear in the Preface for the Masses for the Dead, for those who believe “life is changed, not ended.” One day we will be united with them never to be separated again.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...