Why do we pray for the dead?

This year, 2020, is completely different to other years due to the ongoing pandemic that is gripping the world. It causes us to reflect more frequently on the meaning of death and the fragility of human life. Of course, thinking about the end of our lives can be disconcerting because we do not know how to deal with the transition from life to death unless we are enlightened by the faith. Thinking about a reality outside the boundaries of time that is characterised by mystery can generate a sense of agitation or even fear; however, it is beneficial for us to consider the nature of death and to ask the reasons why we pray for the dead.


Each year on the 2nd November, the Church celebrates the passage from earthly life to eternal life in a special way with the feast of All Souls. This passage can be considered a trauma because when God in his perfect wisdom created our body and our soul, he created them to always be united. However, even in death we can see that there is a grace from the Lord. Our body is destined to corruption, to decompose and return to dust, because of sin. The Sacred Scriptures say, “ […] Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return!” (Gn 3, 19). This return to the earth is an expression of divine mercy, which gives us the grace to be reborn to new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His Resurrection prefigures the future of glory reserved for our bodies and our souls after the sleep of death. From the very beginning, the Church has spoken of death as a rest, a sweet sleep. In fact, the word "cemetery" was first used by the early Christians and it means "dormitory", that is, a resting place where one awaits the Resurrection. Thus, the painful separation we experience today when someone we love dies, or the feeling of worry that arises when we think of our own death, diminishes before the unspeakable image of what the Lord has prepared for us: eternity, eternal happiness together with God and all the angels and saints.

One question remains to be answered. If Jesus has already guaranteed us eternal life with his Redemptive death, why do we still have to pray for the dead? The Church teaches us that, through the sacraments, we have a life of union with God, an anticipation of that profound and perfect union that will take place in Heaven. However, we are not totally holy or saintly because of sin and, even if we have returned to union with God through the sacrament of Confession, we need purifying. Whilst we live, we can profit from indulgences to obtain this purification. The Church teaches us:

" An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment for sins, whose guilt is forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful obtains under certain and clearly defined conditions through the intervention of the Church, which, as the minister of Redemption, dispenses and applies authoritatively the treasury of the expiatory works of Christ and the saints.”(The Handbook of Indulgences, n. 1).

In her generous maternity, the Church distributes the divine gifts in many ways, when, with the appropriate dispositions, we strive to say prayers, make pilgrimages and above all exercise charity, the greatest of all the virtues.

Our deceased brothers may have died without having had the opportunity to purify themselves. The Church teaches us that in this case the souls go to Purgatory, a place of expiation, where they suffer above all because they have yet achieved that perfect union with God. They need our prayers and our works of charity and, above all else, the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass to make them ready for heaven. This offering of ours contributes significantly to minimising the suffering of our brothers who, once purified, are freed from Purgatory and enter the Glory of the Blessed.

In this month of November, in a special way, we pray with great confidence for our deceased brothers and we offer to the Lord, through the hands of the Virgin Mary, all our little sacrifices and prayers for those who can no longer earn merit for themselves. Let us also remember the abandoned souls who have no one to pray for them. In their turn too, once we pass from this life, they will intercede for us and help us walk towards our true homeland!

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

Our Lady, helper of souls in purgatory, pray for us.