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Why are we called to pray for the dead?

By Fr. Hien Nguyen


The souls in Purgatory are completely engaged with the beautiful yet difficult cleansing of themselves, to be made pure and whole for life in Heaven, and there are no “shortcuts” for them to access for themselves in this process (we have plenty on earth – the sacraments, spiritual devotions, indulgences, etc.). Also, each person’s degree of purgation will match the degree to which they have sinned – just as in a legal system the severity of jail time is supposed to “match” the severity of the crime – and in this way justice is achieved. However, in God’s infinite mercy, He allows the Church Militant (you and I) to “pay the debt” of each other’s sins through our sacrifices of prayer, fasting, and especially the Mass. This grace extends to the suffering souls in Purgatory, and in this way we can lessen their suffering and speed their entry into Heaven.


Imagine you’ve skipped across a tar field to arrive on the other side, where Jesus in all His love and mercy and goodness is awaiting you with open arms. When you get there, however, you find that your clothes are filthy and you desire to be made clean before embracing Beauty himself. The condition in which you are purged of this filth (i.e., the stain of sin) is called Purgatory. It involves great suffering because burning shame and deep remorse are painful; when Peter betrayed Jesus, the Lord turned and met his gaze, and Peter “went out and began to weep bitterly” (Luke 23: 60-62). However, Purgatory should most of all be understood as a profound expression of God’s love; it is His way of making it possible for us to be with Him “as the pure and unstained souls He had meant us to be from the beginning”, allowing us to become truly ourselves. Therefore, for the souls in Purgatory, a deep-rooted joy pervades all of their suffering – it is the joy of knowing that they are securely destined for Heaven.