This homily was for the Epiphany Men’s Club and Ladies Guild Memorial Mass this past week but I thought it might be of wider interest…
Today we are here to pray for the dead, for those members of the Men’s Club and Ladies Guild who have gone before us but deserve to be remembered. In the remembering, we don’t merely reminisce, we actually help participate in their sanctification and progress towards Heaven.
Why would we pray for the dead? The simple answer is that the dead do not simply disappear, because we know that for a human being death is not the end, for we’ve all been graced with an eternal soul, and all who have died in a state of grace will find ourselves in the afterlife either preparing to meet God (if you’re like me and have some sins to work off) or immediately ascending into glory and beholding his face (if you’re a saint). At the end of time we will all be reunited with our bodies in glory. We will all be saints.
When we die in the faith, we enter into a realm that is related to God, and that means that those who have gone before are still related to us. We are still in communion with them. This is such a beautiful teaching of the Church. It isn’t escapist or a religious platitude, as if we pretend everyone is in heaven automatically so you can ignore death or pretend it isn’t an evil, sad catastrophe (God does not like death – which is why he died in our place to give us new life). Our prayers for the dead are for their benefit as they struggle and work towards the purification of their souls in purgatory. God promises that those who enter purgatory are assured of eternal happiness, but they must do the work to make ready. And this is where you and I can assist them with our prayers. In return, the saints pray for us. No one is left alone. No one is left behind. This is the Body of Christ in action.
With death, life is not ended but changed, so we maintain our connection with our loved ones through prayer, which is why it is so inspiring that we are here tonight praying. It is particularly effective to offer a Mass intention for the dead. At each Mass, the priest offers his intention (it’s the one I say out-loud during the Eucharistic prayer), but that doesn’t keep everyone else from bringing an intention. That of the priest is special because at each Mass he is united in a special way with the sacrificial death of Christ, so when he presents his intention it is as if Christ himself is bringing it to the ear of the Heavenly Father. But your intentions are important, too, and you can imagine yourself placing them on the altar along with the bread and wine. Imagine them drifting up to heaven like incense.
Tonight, we pray for all the members of the Men’s Club and Ladies Guild who have gone before us. Keep praying for them. Keep interceding with God for the dead. I assure you that the dead are praying for you.
Ultimately, all the souls we pray for, and indeed one day after we’re dead and our children pray for us, all of the dead in purgatory will be gathered up in our blessed Mother Mary’s mantle and presented to God and the heavenly hosts. This is our sure hope.
Mother Mother, may we follow you one day to the side of Christ.