II Maccabees 12:43-46: "And making a gathering, he
[Judas] sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for
sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and
religiously concerning the resurrection, (For if he had not hoped that
they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed
superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,) And because he considered
that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up
for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the
dead, that they may be loosed from sins."
Those who've died in a state of grace are not truly "dead"; they are
our beloved in Heaven or in Purgatory (on their way to Heaven) and will
forever be, world without end, part of the Communion of Saints -- the
Church Triumphant (the Saints in Heaven, whether or not they are
beatified or canonized), the Church Suffering (the saints in
Purgatory), and the Church Militant (the saints on earth).
Because, aside from those the Church has beatified or
canonized, we can't know who is already in Heaven, who is in Purgatory
for a time, or
who is damned, we pray for the dead for the rest of our lives -- assuming
they are in Purgatory, while hoping they are in Heaven and not
damned. This has been the practice of Christians since the beginning of
the Church, as attested to by inscriptions found in the catacombs, such
as this one found in the Catacombs of Domitilla:
"Ut quisquis de
fratribus legerity, roget Deum ut sancto et innocent spiritu ad Deum
suscipiatur." ("If any of the brethren reads this, let him ask that this
holy and innocent soul may be received by God.")
We also ask
those who've died to pray for us. While those whom the
Church has deemed to be of the Church Triumphant (the canonized Saints)
are in Heaven for certain and are, therefore, in no need of our prayers
for them, we've always asked for them to pray for
As to the Church Suffering in Purgatory (the "poor souls"), Aquinas
they are not able to know, by themselves, our prayers; however, it is
piously believed, and taught by St. Alphonsus Liguori, that God makes
our prayers known to them -- not directly, as they are deprived of the
Beatific Vision until they enter Heaven, but by infusing this knowledge
into their souls. St. Bellarmine teaches that because the Church
Suffering is so close to God -- much closer than we are and having the
great consolation of knowing they are saved -- their prayers
for us are very effective. So, as you pray for your dead loved
ones, ask them to pray for you, too! This practice, too, is
attested to in the ancient catacombs, these coming again from the
Catacomb of Domitilla:
nobis" ("Make petition for us")
"Pete pro parentes tuos" ("Pray for your parents")
"Pete pro sorore
tua" ("Pray for your sister")
"Succurrite cum judicabitis" ("Help us when you come to the
As to the
damned, there is no hope; no prayer can help them and we
can't pray formally for those in Hell. The problem, of course, is that
we can't know who is damned, and so we pray generally for "all the faithful
departed." For those who've died outside of
visible Communion with Christ's Church or for those Catholics who've
died seemingly without repentance and in scandal, public prayer
cannot be offered, but we can most certainly still pray privately
with the hope that they've died in a state of grace. Those who
are denied a Catholic funeral
can't be prayed for liturgically, publicly, but they can most
definitely be prayed for -- and should be prayed for --
privately. Priests can even offer Masses
for such people privately,
without naming them.
for the Dead
Masses on the
3rd, 7th, and 30th Days and on Anniversaries
In addition to the prayers said just after
death, and the prayers of the funeral
Mass, it is Catholic practice to have Masses said for the departed on
the 3rd, 7th, and 30th days after the death or burial. When tallying
the dates for such Masses, one starts counting the day after
the date of death or burial as day one. That is, for example,
if someone were to die on May 1st and be buried on May 3rd, the Mass
said for him on the 7th day should be offered on May 8th (the 7th day
after death) or May 10th (the 7th day after the date of burial). Masses
are also offered on the anniversaries of the date of death, but these
are celebrated on the same date -- i.e., one who dies on May 1, 2005
will have a Mass said on May 1, 2006.
Masses for the dead have infinite value, in the objective order, for
the souls of the departed. They also have great subjective value for
those who survive in that it is comforting to know that Masses are
being offered for one's departed loved ones. So, while the bereaved can
arrange such Masses, others, even non-Catholics, can arrange with a
priest to have such Masses said, too, which would be a great gift of
comfort to survivors (stole fees for such Masses are usually $5 to $10
dollars, depending on the diocese). Such Masses don't necessarily have
to be offered in the diocese(s) of the deceased or bereaved; any
priest, anywhere in the world, can be asked to offer a Mass for someone
(note to non-Catholics: traditional Catholics would be most
comforted, or only comforted, by a traditional Mass
being offered, depending on how they view the Novus Ordo Mass. So be
safe and arrange such things with a traditional priest.).
In any case, it is customary to let the bereaved know you've asked that
a Mass be said by sending him a "Mass Card." A Mass Card is much like a
greeting card, but with a place to write in the intentions of a
requested Mass, the name of the person who arranged the Mass, and,
sometimes, the name of the priest who will be offering the Mass.
Your church, chapel, or funeral home might have Mass Cards to send,
but, if not, you can get them from Catholic gift shops and stationers,
too. (Note that Mass Cards aren't only sent to notify people of
Masses for their dead loved ones, though this is their most common use;
they can be sent to notify someone about Masses offered for other
intentions, too, but Mass Cards for the Dead and Mass Cards for the
Living are usually decorated very differently).
Masses for the Dead can be offered at almost any time, not only on the
days mentioned above. At any time throughout the year after death of a
loved one, and also in the years to come, a Catholic would
consider it a very beautiful thing to receive a Mass Card letting him
know that a Mass is being said for someone he misses. Most importantly,
though, aside from the "gift" aspect of offering Masses for a friend's
dead relatives, the soul of the departed would receive the benefits of
the greatest prayers of the Church and the infinite value of the
offering of the Son to the Father for the remission of sins!
The Thirty Gregorian
The Thirty Gregorian Masses are a series of Masses -- one each day for
thirty days1 -- offered for a person presumed to be in
Purgatory -- i.e., for any Catholic faithful who's died (and isn't
canonized). The practice is ancient, begun by its namesake, Pope St.
Gregory the Great, who initiated "the Gregorian Thirty" in A.D. 590 at
Rome's Benedictine St. Andrew’s Monastery, which he founded (Gregory
himself tells the story in his Dialogues2).
These Masses first could only be offered at that particular monastery,
where the altar was considered a "privileged altar" -- an altar on
which the Mass brings a plenary indulgence
for the person for whom the Mass is being offered. Later, other altars
were privileged in that manner, and Benedictine priests everywhere came
to offer the Thirty Masses.
"The Gregorian Thirty" are an unofficial, small-T tradition, and are
not widely available. Any priest can
offer them, but finding a priest who has the time (or, these days, who
even knows about them) is a serious problem. Contacting religious
priests (that is, priests who are members of religous orders instead of
secular parish priests) would be your best bet if you're wanting to
have the Gregorian Thirty offered for a loved one.
Another thing to consider for yourself and your loved ones is to enroll
in the Purgatorian Archconfraternity -- an organization for whose
members, living or dead, Mass is offered.
The Purgatorian Archconfraternity began with a group of Redemptorist
Fathers in 1840, headquartered at the Church of S. Maria Monterone in
Rome. Their group was raised by Pope Gregory XVI to the status of an
Archconfraternity in 1841. After the Second Vatican Council, things
went awry with the Archconfraternity as they did with everything else,
but the Archconfraternity has been restored by the Transalpine
Redemptorist Fathers who live in Golgotha Monastery on the little
island of Papa Stronsay, in Orkney, North of Scotland (see video of
these monks off the "Fun Stuff" page).
Once enrolled in the Archconfraternity, the traditional Latin Mass will
be offered for you or your loved ones, as members of the group, living
or dead, every day (except for those days when only one priest is
available, or on those days when no Masses are ever offered, such as
Good Friday, etc.). The Rosary will be prayed each Monday for dead
members. If a living member of the Archconfraternity dies, a special
Mass will be offered for him as soon as the priests are notified. One
may enroll for a year or for a lifetime, as a single individual or as a
family (parents and children). Living members should also try to assist
the souls in Purgatory through their prayers and works, especially
through the Mass, and should spread this devotion to others, but no
obligations bind one under the pain of sin.
The daily Masses and weekly Rosaries offered by the island priests will
continue until Jesus comes again, God willing, as long as there are at
least three priests on Papa Stronsay. If ever there were two priests,
the Masses would be offered weekly. If there were to ever be one
priest, obligations would cease -- but vocations are booming. See the Papa Stronsay
website (off-site. Will open in new browser window).
For information on the Purgatorian Archconfraternity, write to:
Golgotha Monastery Island
Papa Stronsay, KW17 2AR
for the Dead
In addition to
having a Mass said on the anniversary of a
loved one's death as mentioned above, there exists an old Christian
custom of fasting, burning a candle for 24 hours, and praying for them on this
day and on future anniversaries of the loved one's death (this custom
was adopted by Jews in the Middle Ages; they call it
"Jahrzeit" -- also spelled "Yahrzeit" -- as did the medieval
German Christians.) Any orthodox
traditional or improvised prayer can be prayed at this time, but the Rosary is always appropriate and can be prayed
now (or any time) for the dead, offered in the same way it is at
Catholic funerals -- i.e., with the Fatima
Prayer replaced by the Eternal Rest Prayer. The Eternal Rest prayer
is also prayed by itself, offered any time for the dead, when visiting
grave sites, and when passing cemeteries. It is a prayer every Catholic
should know by heart:
grant unto him/her (them), O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon
him/her (them). May he/she (they) rest in peace. Amen.
dona ei (eis) Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat ei (eis). Requiéscat
(Requiéscant) in pace. Amen.
We also pray for our dead every time we eat if we pray the
Blessing, another prayer every Catholic should know by heart:
We give Thee
thanks for all Thy benefits, O Almighty God, Who livest and reignest
forever. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy
of God, rest in peace. Amen.
gratias, omnipotens Deus, pro universis beneficiis tuis, qui vivis et
regnas in saecula saeculorum. Fidelium animae, per misericordiam Dei,
requiescant in pace. Amen.
The Penitential Psalms -- i.e.,
Psalms 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, 142 -- are also prayed for the dead,
especially the 129th Psalm, known as De Profundis (Out of the
Out of the
depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord: Lord hear my voice.
clamávi ad te, Dómine: Dómine, exáudi vocem meam.
Let Thine ears
be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
Fiant aures tuae
intendéntes: in vocem deprecationis meae.
If Thou, Lord,
shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
observaveris, Dómine: Dómine, quis sustinébit.
But there is
forgiveness with Thee: because of Thy law I wait for Thee, O Lord.
Quia apud te
propitiátio est: et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Dómine.
My soul waiteth
on His word: my soul hopeth in the Lord.
mea in verbo ejus: sperávit ánima mea in Dómino.
From the morning
watch even until night let Israel hope in the Lord:
matutina usque ad noctem: speret Israel in Dómino.
For with the
Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plentiful redemption.
Dóminum misericordia: et copiósa apud eum redémptio.
And He shall
redeem Israel, from all their iniquities.
Et ipse redimet
Israel, ex ómnibus iniquitátibus ejus.
Litanies for the Dead, and the Chaplet of the Dead
Among other prayers, litanies are prayed for the dead. I offer two Litanies for the Dead -- one very
brief one which can easily be prayed often, and another longer one
especially suited for All Souls Day.
Or, you may prefer praying the Chaplet of
The Prayer of St. Gertrude the Great
Another prayer Catholics should be familiar with is that of St.
Gertrude the Great (A.D. 1256-1301/2), who was told by Our Lord in a
private revelation, that when the following prayer is prayed earnestly,
1,000 souls will be released from Purgatory. This is not an official Catholic teaching,
mind you, and the revelation may have only applied to St. Gertrude's
prayers; but the prayer is a good one nonetheless. Because of the
unite the prayer with the merits of the Mass, it is most powerful:
I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood Of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union
with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls
in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the Universal
Church, those in my own home and within my own family. Amen.
Heroic Act of Charity
An "Heroic Act of Charity" is the offering
of the satisfactory value (not
the merits) of all of our sufferings and works of our rest
our lives and of any time we may spend in Purgatory for the
relief of the souls in Purgatory. We do this by first deciding to do
so, and then praying (using our own words or the more formal prayer
below) to offer these things to God through Mary's hands.
Doing this is not a matter of taking a vow; it doesn't bind under pain
of sin, and it is revokable (unless one vows never to revoke the Act).
But it is a tremendous sacrifice, hence the name. It is truly heroic, a
giving up of one's own earned relief from the temporal effects of sin
-- even relief of the sufferings of Purgatory -- for the good of others.
In addition to asking God to use their satisfactory works for the souls
in Purgatory, those who make this Act also receive a plenary indulgence (under the usual conditions)
for the souls in Purgatory each time they receive Communion, and each
time they hear Mass on Mondays for the sake of the departed. Words to a
formal Act of Heroic Charity are as follows:
O Holy and
Adorable Trinity, desiring to aid in the relief and release of the Holy
Souls in Purgatory, through my devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, I
cede and renounce, on behalf of these souls, all the satisfactory part
of my works, and all the suffrages which may be given to me after my
death. In their entirety, I offer them to Mary, the Most Holy Mother of
God, that she may use them, according to her good pleasure, for those
souls of the faithful departed whom she desires to alleviate their
suffering. O my God, deign to accept and bless my offering which I make
to Thee through the most august Queen of Heaven and Earth. Amen.
The Days of the Dead
The entire month of November is devoted to the Poor Souls in Purgatory,
and Rosaries for the dead are offered during
this time (with the
Eternal Rest prayer replacing the Fatima prayer as above). The
month-long devotion to the Souls in Purgatory begins with the three
consecutive "Days of the Dead" at the end of October and early
The Days of the Dead (Hallowtide) are:
All Hallows' Eve: 31
October, the day on which we unofficially recall the reality
of Hell and how to avoid it;
All Saints Day, or All
Hallows' Day: 1 November, the day on which we officially
honor God's Saints of the Church Triumphant; and
All Souls Day: 2
November, the day on which we officially commemorate and pray
for all the faithful departed of the Church Suffering.
might pray a Novena for the Holy Souls,
the All Souls Novena, or some
other such Novena beginning on 24 October and ending on All Saints Day
(the eve All Souls Day). Then, after sunset on All Saints Day, we light
a candle (preferably one that that had been blessed at Candlemas) and
pray the Rosary for the dead. The next day, 2 November, being All Souls
Day, we can offer public prayer for the dead by attending one of the
three Masses offered for the dead on that day. We also visit the graves
of our family members, seeking those special indulgences
for them that are only offered on All Souls Day and during the Octave
of All Saints:
indulgence, applicable only to the souls in Purgatory, may be gained on
the 2nd by making a pious visit to a church to pray a Pater and the
indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, may also be
gained fron 1 November to 8 November by visiting loved ones' graves and
praying the Eternal Rest prayer for their peace.
Know that we are
limited to indulgences for the dead on the Days of the Dead.
Indulgenced works, prayer, votive
offerings, alms-giving, etc., may always be offered for the dead,
at any time of the year.
And note that those in Purgatory are also especially remembered
Mondays, and on on Ember Days in addition
to Hallowtide. Also
note that because those in
Purgatory are no longer under the jurisdiction of the Church Militant,
all the above prayers, indulgences, and works for the dead are offered
by way of beseeching God to apply them for the relief of the Church
1 The thirty days
on which the Thirty Gregorian Masses are offered are consecutive,
interrupted only by Christmas,
the Sacred Triduum of Holy Week (Maundy
Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday), and Easter.
2 Pope St. Gregory the Great's recounting
of the origins of the "Thirty Gregorian Masses," as found in his Dialogues:
I must not
forget to add an incident that occurred in my monastery three years
ago. There was a monk by the name of Justus, well versed in medicine,
who attended to my needs while I was in the monastery and watched at my
bedside during my frequent illnesses. When he himself became seriously
ill, he was placed under the care of his brother Copiosus, who at
present is practicing medicine here in Rome. Realizing that his final
hour had come, Justus told his brother that he had kept three gold
pieces hidden away for himself. This fact surely could not be concealed
from the brethren. In making a careful search of the entire store of
drugs, they came upon the gold pieces hidden away in a supply of
As soon as I found out that a monk living in community with
us had committed this evil, I was very much disturbed. The rule of our
monastery had always been that the brethren observe the common life
strictly. No individual was to have anything whatever as his own. Sadly
disappointed, I began to consider what
to do in order to free the dying man of his guilt and give the living a
salutary lesson. Sending for Pretiosus, the prior of the monastery, I
said, ‘See to it that, none of the brethren visits the dying man or
speaks any words: of comfort to him. When Justus in his dying moments
calls for any of the brethren, let his own brother Copiosus inform
him that the brethren will have nothing to do with him because of the
three gold pieces in his possession. The bitterness of this experience
at the moment of death may serve as a penitential scourge to cleanse
him from the sin he has committed. After his death, do not bury him
with the brethren, but, instead, cast his body into a grave dug in a
manure pile. And as you throw the gold pieces into the grave; after
him, have all the brethren say together, “Take your money with you to
perdition.” So shall he be buried.’
Of these two commands, one was meant to benefit the; dying
man, the other to instruct the living. The bitterness at the hour of
death was to bring about the forgiveness of his sin, and the harsh
condemnation of avarice was to deter the others from ever yielding to
this vice. It had the desired effect. For when
the monk came to die and anxiously tried to commend himself to the
brethren, none of them would listen to him or speak to him. When
Copiosus explained to his dying brother the reason for this treatment,
he began to weep bitterly for his sin and so passed away in a state of sincere
He was buried as I had commanded. Frightened by this severe
sentence, the brethren began one by one to bring back to me the
smallest and most trifling articles, even such as the Rule allowed them
to keep. They were very much afraid of retaining anything that might
bring censure upon them.
Thirty days later, I began to feel strong compassion for the
deceased Justus. As I considered with deep anguish the penalty he was
enduring, I thought of a way to relieve him of his suffering. With this
in mind, I called Pretiosus, the prior, and said to him sadly, ‘Justus
has now been suffering the torments of
fire for a long time and we must show him our charity by helping as
much as we can to gain his release. Beginning today, offer the holy
Sacrifice for his soul for thirty consecutive days. Not one of these
days is to pass without a Mass being celebrated for his release.’ The
prior obediently accepted the instructions and left.
Days passed, and being busy with other affairs, I lost count
of them. Then, one night, Justus appeared to his brother Copiosus, who
asked him at once why he came and how he was. ‘Up to this moment I was
in misery,’ he said, ‘but now I am well, because this morning I was
admitted to communion.’
Copiosus hurried to tell the monks the good news. Taking
exact count of the days, they discovered that this was the thirtieth
consecutive day on which Mass had been offered for him. Previous to
this, Copiosus did not know that the brethren were offering Masses for
Justus, nor did the brethren know that Copiosus had seen him in a
vision. At the very moment, therefore, when they became mutually aware
of what had taken place, they realized that the vision and the
completion of the thirty Masses occurred at one and the same time. They
were now convinced that the brother who had died was freed from
punishment through the Sacrifice of the Mass.