Today, my mother-in-law and I were able to attend a Mass that she had said in honor of her sister who had passed away last year.
During the time when we pray as a congregation for the various intentions of the Church, her sister's name was mentioned as we prayed for the repose of her soul & for her grieving family. It was beautiful and meant so much to us, and it got me thinking about why we offer Mass for the dead & I was excited to write a bit about it this afternoon.
The Repose of a Soul
If a person has died in some form of friendship or "good standing" with God, we believe that their souls will enter a process of purification before entering the glory of Heaven -- we call this Purgatory (more about Purgatory next week). To pray for the repose of a person's soul is to pray for them while they are in this state of Purgatory, asking God to bring them into the eternal rest of Heaven. Just as we pray for someone who is alive but ill, we can continue pray for someone who has already passed away. This is one quite wonderful aspect of the Communion of Saints.
The Communion of Saints
As Catholics, we believe that we are all joined into the body of Christ, whether we are living on earth or not. We are joined especially in prayer for one another. Just as I can ask you to pray for me, I can also ask Mary or any of the other saints to pray for me as well. And just as I can pray for you, I can also pray for the souls in Purgatory (one side note: we do not need to pray for those in Heaven because they are already receiving their eternal reward and things really couldn't get any better. Make sense?). Understanding that we are all one body, regardless of death or earthly life, helped me out quite a bit with this. When we Christians say things like "death has lost its sting", we really mean it (although losing a loved one always hurts, we are comforted to know we are still united through Christ.)
So, Why the Mass?
Why do we specifically offer a Mass for a person's soul? Why not just pray for them, or do anything else? Well, we can pray for them on our own and I'm sure it would be quite lovely if we did. But, the Mass is the most meaningful offering/sacrifice/prayer we can make and so it is an obviously favorable choice. During the Mass, we offer up and receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord in the Eucharist. This is the central element of Catholic life.
In an article for EWTN, Father Edward McNamara explains, "This is because the Church considers the Mass as the greatest possible prayer of intercession insofar as it is the perfect offering of Christ to the Father by making present the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection."
What do you think about all of this? Leave a comment & let me know!
Have you ever been to a mass offered for someone who has died? What'd you think of it?
At first it sounds like something that mightgive you the heebie-jeebies but once I read about it a little bit, the weirdness started to fade (kindof like it does whenever I study anything Catholic).
I know I'm not a theologian or anything fancy, but I love learning about Jesus + His Church and sharing what I learn - so I hope this was helpful and insightful!