Wednesday, 13 April 2016




It’s very fitting that the last of the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy should be about Praying for the Living and the Dead. That makes explicit what has been essential to all the other Works of Mercy. Each of them should be inspired and empowered by prayer. Through our prayers we entrust the needy to God’s loving care. That immediately relates us and them to Christ, who identifies with the needy, and with those who comes to their aid. As we pray for others we become united to God’s compassion for them and draw upon His infinite power to assist them.
All of the Works of Mercy are concerned with helping other people, rather than being pre occupied with our personal needs. As we respond to other people’s needs we are taken out of the self-centred ‘me,’ or ‘selfie’ culture. That’s why we pray ‘Our Father,’ not ‘My Father.’ Prayer for others transforms humanitarian concern for the Family of Man to concern for God’s Family –our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Because both the living and the dead belong to the one Body of Christ -the Church -we believe death does not break the bond between those who are still alive here on earth and those who have died in Christ.
Our prayers, and especially the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection in the holy Mass, can help the dead to complete their journey to eternal happiness in heaven. They still need to be purified of the remaining effects of sins, which have already been forgiven. Only then will they be fit to enter the very presence of the All-Holy God. 

   Through this Spiritual Work of Mercy our prayers for their eternal salvation directly involves us and our deceased loved ones in God’s greatest expression of loving compassion. This is the climax of the Works of Mercy!

The importance of praying for the dead is expressed in the Sacred Scriptures. "For if he (Judas Maccabeus) were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought," (2 Macc. 12. 44-45).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims an exciting development in our understanding of the importance of praying for the dead. I’d been taught that the dead were simply passive beneficiaries of our prayers for them. But no. The Catechism teaches, (958), "Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, BUT ALSO OF MAKING THEIR INTERCESSION FOR US EFFECTIVE." In other words, our prayers for the dead enable them to pray for us. There’s a wonderful dialogue of us praying for each other. This idea is further developed, (1689), "It is by the Eucharist thus celebrated that the community of the faithful, especially the family of the deceased, learn to live in communion with the one who "has fallen asleep in the Lord," by communicating in the Body of Christ of which he is a living member and, then, BY PRAYING FOR HIM AND WITH HIM." The Church here teaches that we can not only pray for the dead, but also with them, and that they can pray for us. To share such comforting teaching with those who mourn would be a wonderful work of mercy, which the Church should proclaim.

I have found that praying for the dead is a great comfort for the living. Through prayer we can tie up the loose ends of regrets, which we all have when someone dear to us dies. We failed to apologise when we’ve hurt someone, or to express our love and gratitude for those we took for gratitude. But through prayer we can still put things right and express our continued love in a practical way. That removes the sense of helplessness and guilt, which often accompanies grief.

Perhaps, surprisingly, praying for our deceased loved ones transforms and enriches our love for them. While they were with us here on earth we tended to concentrate on their temporal needs –their corporal and emotional well-being, their jobs etc. But when they die our prayers focus solely on their eternal salvation. Through our prayers we help them to pass from being members of the Pilgrim Church to complete their life long journey to eternal rest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Placing the needs of both the living and dead into God’s loving care is the greatest expression of our loving concern for the needy and provides a fitting climax to our reflections on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.


Let us pray. 

Heavenly Father, throughout our series on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy you have helped us to looked beyond our own needs to those of other people. We rejoice that our concern for them embraces not only the living but also the dead. Through our prayers we can express our love for them in a practical way. That is a great assistance to them and comfort for us.
As we pray for them we unite our concern for them with your infinitely loving care and compassion. Confidently we place them in your hands, knowing that you will only give what will help them to receive eternal happiness with you.

Heavenly Father, we know that we need you to guide and strengthen us in expressing your compassion through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. We ask you to give us the sensitivity to recognise people’s different needs, to see their dignity as your children, when that may be hidden by their wretched appearance and uncouth behaviour. Above all, dear Father, do not allow us to become detached observers, but inspire us to work and pray for your needy children, our needy brothers and sisters in Christ.

We confidently ask you this through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who promised that you would grant us whatever we sought in His name. Amen.
For the sake of His Sacred Passion have mercy on us and the whole world.
Isidore Clarke O.P.
Although Peter and I have completed our series of comments on the 14 Works of Mercy we thought it could be helpful for me to show how we can put them into practice in our families, or indeed, in any community context.  That's what I will do next week.

No comments:

Post a Comment