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Prayer for the Dead

The Catholic Church dedicates November to the faithful departed: those who died believing in God while still in need of purification from sins and attachments to sin.

Our prayers for the deceased express our union with them as fellow members of the Lord’s body. Even as we intercede for the guilty on earth, we come before the judge of all and plead for those who yet await full union with him and all the angels and saints.

Pope Francis has extended throughout November a plenary indulgence (full remission of the temporal punishment due to sin) for those who visit the graves of their loved ones and pray for the repose of their souls.

This indulgenced prayer can take place graveside or remotely from wherever we are. There is no set formula, but the standard Our Father and Apostles’ Creed are a good example.

Christ entrusts to the church the “treasury of merit,” all the graces he has won for mankind through his passion, death, and resurrection, and all the graces his people have cooperated in receiving, from the Blessed Virgin Mary on down to us.

Since God the Son united himself intimately to human nature in the Incarnation, the bonds of our humanity take on a strength they would not otherwise have. We provide real help for each other here, and hereafter!

Any unsavory moments in Catholic history aside, we don’t pay for indulgences, but we do sacrifice for them. The church requires the following conditions: recitation of the appropriate prayers, or performance of the appropriate acts of charity; reception of the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation within a reasonable time; and prayer for the Holy Father, the Pope, whom Jesus entrusted with the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 16).

These texts from the 1962 Parish Ritual, adapted for modern usage, speak to our union with the deceased in life and in death, and I commend them to your hearts and lips.

“O God! great and omnipotent Judge of the living and the dead! Before Whom we are all to appear after this short life to render an account of our works. Let our hearts, we pray, be deeply moved at this sight of death, and while we consign the body of the deceased to the earth, let us be mindful of our own frailty and mortality, that walking always in Your fear and in the ways of Your commandments, we may after our departure from this world experience a merciful judgment and rejoice in everlasting happiness. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

“Almighty and most merciful Father, Who know the weakness of our nature, bow down Your ear in pity unto Your servants, upon whom You have laid the heavy burden of sorrow. Take away out of their hearts the spirit of rebellion and teach them to see the good and gracious purpose working in all the trials which You send upon them. Grant that they may not languish in fruitless and unavailing grief, nor sorrow as those who have no hope, but through their tears look meekly up to You, the God of all consolation. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.”