One of the most misunderstood concepts of the Catholic and Orthodox faiths, is our prayer for the dead. When the reformation happened, it went through great lengths to get rid of this practice. There was a real issue with Plenary indulgences, and rather than fix the issue, there was a knee jerk reaction to it. Alas, I digress.
We believers have prayed for the dead well before Luther Came along..and even well before Jesus. With the Maccabees reconquest of the Holy City we read
43 And making a gathering, he 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,
44 (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,)
45 And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them.
46 It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”
Even today, Jews pray something called “Kaddish”, which literally means “Sanctification”. They will pray this for 11 months, in order to Help the Soul along to God.
I bring up that fact, because one concept of the reformation was to “Get back to the way it was”. Well, what if I told you we were jews first, and Jesus was a Jew? He probably chanted the Kaddish himself when his Father Died.. When his Cousin John Died. So I’m at a loss we would get rid of something that even our Savior, as a Good jew, did.
I digress. The Point is, we pray for the dead. Not because we are praying them from hell into heaven, but because we know that those who die in Christ, are heaven bound. That being said, I bring us back to my mentioning of Kaddish – The Kaddish exists amongst the Jewish People, because of the concept of how the soul functions (and its not too terribly different from a Christian Concept honestly) – They believe in the immortality of the soul. However, they also realize in the immortality of that consciousness as well. That consciousness, holds on to things. Attachment, if you will.
Christ died on the Cross. Once and for all, our debt was forgiven. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t have our own self-inflicted damage. All that guilt people harbor.. and we ALL have it. Anyone that says they dont, is a liar. It’s in our human nature to self loathe. Regrettably that self loathing sets up barriers to us truly experiencing the Divine when we pass.
God is perfect love. PERFECT LOVE. In humility if you try to comprehend that you can’t. At some point, human flaw enters in. You might think of that person that wronged you.. or that time you were hurt. All of those things are baggage. All of those things prevent a perfect understanding of Him.
God is perfect love, and he loves us so very perfectly that he wants us to be with him all of our eternity. He also knows that while our debt is forgiven by his Son.. we are incapable of often moving that extra step, because of our own attachments to what happened in this world. God gave us free will , and that’s the very thing that puts us in Purgatory. That same free will.. will often allow us to hang onto the guilt and pain of our sins.. rather than embracing our maker.
Purgatory I’ve always explained is like the Sprucing up Dorothy and Company in the Wizard of Oz visit before seeing the wizard. Dorothy Gets her nails done.. The Lion gets bows.. The Scarecrow gets stuffed back with fresh straw. The tin man gets polished up. They are made new for their Audience.
Purgatory does this for us. It Cleans us up. Makes our “Robe white”. It Sanctifies us, and allows us to drop our attachments, and embrace the One Perfect God.
So, this is why we on this side of things, pray for the dead. They cannot help themselves at this point, but they are still very much alive, because the soul, which is who we truly are… Never Dies, as it comes from the very breath of God. We pray to help them, to ease their suffering. Purgatory is a fire, a purposeful fire, but a fire none the less. Consider how hard it is to let go of your attachments and anger in this world. Now consider how much more difficult that is, without form.. without a concept of the passage of time.
I suspect my own time in purgatory will be lengthy. I believe I have a savior who ransomed me from hell. I know I wont go there.. and I know I am heaven bound… but I also know before that happens.. I will have quite a bit of sprucing up to accomplish, and once I pass from this life.. I’ll be reliant on the prayers of others to shorten my stay there.
Purgatory is not an option to heaven, it’s simply a stop on the way, one that most of us go through.
Today on All souls day, we pray for all those who have gone before us. We will many of us, sing or recite the Dies Irae, to remind ourselves that eventually there will be finally Judgement, but through the Mercy of Christ, who is our Judge, we will be saved on that great day.