Praying for the dead

Celebrated by Archbishop Denis Hart
at St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne,
on Sunday, 11th November, 2001, at 11.00am


My dear Friends,

Jesus today reminds us that he has risen from the dead and will take this him all who die believing in him.

The importance of praying for the dead is emphasised in addition to our faith that Jesus overcomes death, suffering and burden.

In confident hope, as we celebrate this Mass, let us call to mind our sins.


My dear Friends,

Death is never easy; the untimed and unknown end of our life is an inescapable reality. However, the way we perceive death, both as those who will die or those who are left behind, is very much determined by the way we look at it. Is it the final curtain of life? Or is it the opening out of a new wonderful existence?

Jesus Christ, who took our flesh and faced for our sake the terror of death and conquered its meaninglessness and the finality of the Cross, also rose from the dead. In death Jesus shows us that it is not the last word, but it is the beginning of a new life in which we share.

The challenge, which is offered to our vision because we must continue our lives while we pray for those who have died, is knowing that our prayers are effective to support them on their journey and bring them more quickly to be with God. Saint Cyprian reminds us of our destiny when he says, "How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honoured with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ, your Lord and God, ….. to delight in the joy of immortality in the kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God's friends." (St Cyprian Ep. 58,10,1)

We know that all who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven (CCC 1030). The purpose of our prayer today is precisely to ensure this steady progress. The Church does commend alms giving, indulgences, works of penance, undertaken on behalf of the dead;

"Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them." (St John Chrysostom Hom. in 1Cor 41:5)

Lastly, there is a challenging passage from Cardinal Newman, which draws us along our journey, mindful of our loved ones, of what we owe them and of the call which Jesus has given each of us. Saint John of the Cross says, "At the end of our life we will be judged on our love."
"Start, now, and rise with Christ. See, he offers you his hand; he is rising; rise with him. Mount up from the grave of the old Adam; from grovelling cares, and jealousies, and fretfulness, and worldly aims; from the thraldom of habit, from the tumult of passion, from the fascinations of the flesh, from a cold, worldly, calculating spirit, from frivolity, from selfishness, from effeminacy, from self-conceit and high-mindedness. Henceforth set about doing what it is so difficult to do, but what should not, must not be left undone; watch, and pray, and meditate, that is, according to the leisure which God has given you. Give freely of your time to your Lord and Saviour, if you have it. If you have little, show your sense of the privilege by giving that little. But any how, show that your heart and your desires, show that your life is with your God. Set aside every day times for seeking him. Humble yourself that you have been hitherto so languid and uncertain. Live more strictly to him; take his yoke upon your shoulder; live by rule. I am not calling on you to go out of the world, or to abandon your duties in the world, but to redeem the time; not to give hours to mere amusement or society, while you give minutes to Christ; not to pray to him only when you are tired, and fit for nothing but sleep; not altogether to omit to praise him, or to intercede for the world and the Church; but in good measure to realise honestly the words of the text, to 'set your affection on things above;' and to prove that you are his, in that your heart is risen with him, and your life hid in him."
(J.H. Newman, 'Rising with Christ', Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vi, 15)


+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.
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