Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Church dedicates the month of November to prayer for the dead. At the same time,
November always coincides with the final weeks of the liturgical year as we anticipate the new year
with the arrival of the Advent season. This means that we simultaneously remember in prayer those
who have died and reflect liturgically on our own ultimate end. The final goal for all of us is eternal
life in heaven, the perfect peace of union with God, and on the last day, the resurrection of the body.
Praying for the dead is one of the spiritual works of mercy and is a Christian duty even outside the
month of November, though the increasing darkness and (for us in the northern hemisphere) lower
temperatures are external reminders of the passing of time and of life that turn our hearts and minds
to reflection of those who have gone before us. With the reminder to pray for all the faithful departed
this month, we also find instruction on the Christian disposition toward death and an invitation to
prepare for the hour of our own death.
When we pray for our loved ones and friends who have died, memories of their lives rush
upon us. We tend to remember the best things, the most positive characteristics. This is good;
remembering virtue and goodness gives us hope that their eternity is or will be filled with the peace
of heaven. By calling on the whole Church to pray for the dead, though, our Catholic faith reminds
us that for all the good one might do on this earth, no one of us is without sin. We, and all of our
beloved deceased, are imperfect human beings in need of God’s mercy. Our prayer this month is a
gift we can give to our departed. In thanksgiving for their lives and for their goodness, we ask God
to give them eternal rest.
This knowledge of the imperfection of all human beings, and their need for our prayers (and
our need for prayers from others!) ought to accompany us also when we are faced with the death of
a loved one. Confronted with the reality of death, in the midst of our grief we are invited to place our
trust and hope in God as we pray for the one who has died, and to bring our sadness before God as
we seek His comfort. The purpose of the Catholic funeral Mass is first and foremost to pray for the
dead – specifically, we pray that God would have mercy on them and give them the gift of salvation
in Heaven. Secondarily, the funeral Mass is an opportunity to pray as mourners, asking God to bring
comfort and peace to our hearts during a time of sincere pain and sadness. This seems somewhat
contradictory to our cultural understanding of funerals, which suggests that they are events primarily
meant to remember the dead and share stories about them. But this eulogistic approach
unintentionally denies the profound spiritual dimension and eternal perspective that is needed. The
greatest service we can give when someone dies is to pray for their eternal salvation. When we
keep the proper purpose of the funeral Mass in mind, we can carry out this great gift, this spiritual
work of mercy, while also attending to the very real experience of grief.
Whenever we attend a funeral, or whenever we pray for the dead, we remember the brevity
of life on earth. None of us knows how long our life will last, but we do know that the purpose of
human life is, as the Baltimore Catechism said, to know, love and serve God in this world, and to be
happy with Him forever in the next. This month of November, dedicated to praying for the dead,
reminds us of our ultimate end and that we ought to be prepared for the day when we stand before
Jesus. Let this month be a time to recommit to growing in our knowledge of God while we still have
the ability to read and study. Let this month be the time we determine to love and serve God with
our whole heart, to commit to works of charity and the fraternal embrace of those who are in need.
And let the motivation for all our good works, all our prayer, all the love we share, be the desire for
eternity spent in the peace of Christ in Heaven.