The final Spiritual Work of Mercy is something that every Christian can certainly do, but do we consciously and intentionally “Pray for the Living and the Dead?”
In God’s family, the Church, there are three distinct groups: The Church Militant on Earth, the Church Suffering in Purgatory, and the Church Triumphant in Heaven. The third group of Christ’s followers is no longer in need of any prayers from us here on earth — they have finished the race! They have reached the true goal of human existence, and are now happy with God forever in His Eternal Kingdom! Those who need our prayers are the members of the first two groups.
Why pray for the living? Can’t people just pray for themselves? We might be tempted to think “I need to pray for myself and my loved ones, why should I bother praying for strangers?” But Sacred Scripture and our entire Catholic Tradition tell us that we need to pray for one another. One Church Father said [I paraphrase] that if we pray for ourselves, we pray for ourselves alone, but if we pray for the whole Church — for all in need — then we also benefit from our own prayers (since we are in need too) and we benefit from the prayers of everyone else. We are one family in the Lord Jesus, and so we need to pray for one another, and we even need to pray for those who hate us and persecute and slander us (Matthew 5)!
Why pray for those who have fallen asleep in Christ? Haven’t they made it to heaven already? Well, the truth is, that “Nothing impure can enter into that place [heaven]” according to the Apostle St. Paul, and “It is a good and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be released from their sins” (II Maccabees 12:46). We don’t know who was completely pure from all sin when they died, and who died while still needing more purification. Purgatory is a place of God’s Infinite Mercy where God Himself, in Mercy, finishes the purification of His beloved children so that they will be worthy to enter into the Beatific Vision of God in Heaven. Those who are in purgatory cannot help themselves, they are being passively purified — but they can receive help from those of us who are still alive by the offerings of prayers, penances and sacrifices on their behalf.
So who should you and I be praying for?
Among the Living, we should be praying for:
- Our families, friends and other loved ones
- Our benefactors: those who have done good to us and helped us along our spiritual journey
- Our Pope, bishops, priests, deacons and religious — that they may be blessed and protected in their lives of consecration to the service of God and His People (the Church)
- All who are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, especially since there is such a great assault on the vocation of marriage and family life today
- Children: for their health and protection, for their future vocations
- All who are suffering from various diseases and ailments, from loneliness and old age
- Christians who are being persecuted for their Faith in the Lord Jesus
- All those wounded from abortion(s), and all those involved in promoting and supporting the evil of abortion — for forgiveness and healing for everyone touched by abortion. [For this intention, we offer a Chaplet of Divine Mercy once a week as members of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mercy.]
Among those who have Died, we should be praying for:
- Family members, friends and benefactors who have gone before us
- Deceased priests and religious — too often, people assume that they all go straight to heaven, but we should NEVER make such an assumption. “To whom much is given, much will be required,” and so they often are in great need of our prayers and sacrifices.
- Those who have died without benefit of the sacraments, or without it being clear that they had made their peace with God — they might have had a last-instant conversion and be in serious need of our prayers and sacrifices on their behalf!
- Those whose family members fail to pray for them: how many people decide that “Grandma went straight to heaven,” and so don’t pray for her, when she really needs their prayers! So we need to pray for those who have been spiritually abandoned in purgatory!
- Deceased members of our Confraternity: at this writing, I am aware of two of our members who have died. Mike Stack was the Rachel’s Vineyard team leader in Detroit, Michigan and a man who grieved deeply for the babies who he saw as an ultrasound technician but were aborted; Janet Kormish was the Rachel’s Vineyard team leader in Kelowna, British Columbia and helped to start Rachel’s Vineyard retreats all over western and northwestern Canada. May they rest in peace through our prayers and sacrifices on their behalf!