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Confession Ink Slingers Last Rites/Anointing of the Sick Liturgical Year Maurisa Purgatory Sacraments

Remember Your Death

In the span of one month this past winter, three people I care very much about lost their fathers unexpectedly. The degree to which each was prepared for death varied greatly. Being spiritually prepared for our own or for a loved one’s death is not something we discuss frequently, if at all, and yet it is one of the most important things we can do. In fact, being properly prepared for death can make all the difference when it comes to the Four Last Things—Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.

What can you do to prepare your own soul for death?

  • Remain in a state of grace by avoiding mortal sin, making use of frequent confession, and frequent, worthy reception of the Eucharist.
  • Pray for a holy death, asking for the intercession of Saint Joseph the patron of a happy death and of the Blessed Mother who we invoke with every Hail Mary—“pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”
  • Commit to the Nine First Fridays Devotion, availing oneself of confession if needed for worthy reception of communion, attending Mass nine first Fridays in a row and receiving Holy Communion. One of the promises of fulfilling this commitment is the grace of final penitence so that one dies in a state of grace.
  • To the extent that you are able, draw close to your priest and discuss what you desire in the way of a “prepared death.”
  • Make clear funeral plans and plans for Masses to be said after your death. Make sure your family knows in detail your wishes.

What can you do to prepare loved ones for death?

  • Discuss all of the above with your loved ones, especially if they are faithfully practicing Catholics. Get a clear idea of their desires and needs when it comes to preparing for death.
  • Pray fervently for the conversion of your loved ones who are outside the faith. You can even offer your Nine First Fridays on their behalf.
  • Get a priest to them as soon as possible if death is immanent or even a possibility. This is a real responsibility. Your loved one’s soul is at stake and as much as we hope they have prepared themselves for the inevitability, nothing can replace what a priest can do for a soul near death.

What should you do after the fact?

  • First of all you should assume nothing—neither canonize nor condemn your loved one.
  • Have Masses said for them.
  • Enroll them in the Seraphic Mass Association or a similar society who offers frequent or perpetual masses for the dead. Have a Traditional Requiem Mass said, if possible.
  • Continue to pray for the soul of your loved one. Our Lady gave the following prayer to the Fatima children. She promised it would be particularly efficacious for the poor souls in Purgatory.

O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those in the most need of Thy mercy.”

This month remember your death. Let us give appropriate time, thought, and prayer focused upon our own mortality and state of our souls. May we meet our death in a state of preparation and grace.


Originally, I had written this post for this past Lent and then the world turned completely upside down. It just didn’t seem to be a truly appropriate time to publish it, especially since many of us were completely deprived of the sacraments and the recommendations I gave in this post are pretty reliant on access to the sacraments. I know there are still many who have limited access to confession and getting a priest into a hospital remains a real obstacle, but much of the information provided is so very important. You may need to forcefully advocate for your loved one with the hospital, your priest, or even the diocese to get what is needed. Just remember, your loved one’s soul may very much depend upon it.

Resources:

5 Things Catholics Should Know About First Fridays

What is the Apostolic Pardon?

Seraphic Mass Association

Memento Mori Devotional

A Prayer for a Holy Death

What Every Catholic Needs to Know About the Four Last Things

On Commendation of the Soul and Expiration

God’s Final Act of Mercy: A Reminder to Remember the Faithful Departed This November

Categories
Devon Wattam End of life Faith Formation Ink Slingers Last Rites/Anointing of the Sick Prayer

Funerals, Their Charm, & Praying for the Dead

 

When I was a little girl, I loved funerals. Not just because they meant that we got to eat fried chicken, casseroles, and endless desserts or listen to stories of our beloved on the back-porch swing into the hours of night. It was what came with all that glorious togetherness that gripped my heart: participating with the transcendent. 

Family rosaries huddled together in a living room too small for the forty plus members of our clan, incense rising over the casket that my uncles would carry into the back of the church, names being added to every intention list known to God and man. It was captivating.

Death meant family time, good food, and prayer. What more was there?

Catholics have a unique relationship with death because we get to show our love for people in a special way after they die. We recognize that we are not God, who determines where our loved ones will spend eternity, and so in faith and charity, we pray that despite their imperfections, the Lord will have mercy on them and welcome them into heaven.

While some might find them somber, Catholic funerals are really nothing more than testaments of gratitude and love. They’re opportunities for family and friends to thank the Lord for the deceased’s life, but also to intercede for them, asking that they attain eternal life. They’re beautiful.

At my husband’s previous duty station, my family would occasionally attend the base chapel that did something during Mass that I found extraordinary. Every Sunday, before the general intentions were read, someone would read the names of US military members who had died serving our country that week. I was astounded that nearly every week there was at least one name read; there are still men and women dying for our freedom on a regular basis. 

After the name was read, a solemn bell rang. It was touching, yet chilling, and I could tell, was not lost on the hundred or so people who listened to those names each week. Names that the rest of the country might not ever hear, but were remembered in grateful prayer in that tiny chapel nonetheless.

Any death in the military is a tremendous loss for its members and our nation as a whole, but when a plane crashes it leaves a particular sting in the hearts of aviators and their families. Once the news breaks that a jet has gone down, wives and mothers hold their breath until they hear the voice of their loved one on the other end of the line, saying, “I’m ok.” 

But it’s little consolation, knowing that some other wife and mother won’t receive that moment of relief. Their anguish resonates throughout the entire naval aviation community, knowing that it could have been anyone. A loss for one is a loss for all, or as John Donne wrote, “don’t ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” 

Yet in the midst of the sorrow and confusion of a life cut short, we do not have to be paralyzed in our mourning. We can still act in love by cherishing the people we care about who are still alive, supporting the grieving loved ones left behind, and, of course, praying for the dead.

The things that drew me to funerals when I was small are still alluring to me today. Now that I’m older, though, I mourn those losses more deeply than before, imagining what could have been if the Lord gave them just a little more time here. But more than anything, I recognize and appreciate how special our prayers for our friends truly are once they’re gone. 

The quality time that comes with a funeral is special, the food is nice, but the prayers we pray are what sustain our hope. Hope that the story doesn’t end when we lose someone, and our love for and friendship with that person doesn’t stop, it’s made new. Hope for eternal life.

I pray that death doesn’t touch your life any time soon, but when it undoubtedly does, I hope that you are surrounded by people who love you, good food to comfort you, and that you remember your beloved in prayer. 

They will need it. We all will.

“Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. 

May they rest in peace.”

 

Categories
Anni Apologetics Bible Faith Formation Ink Slingers Prayer Purgatory

God’s Final Act of Mercy: A Reminder to Remember the Faithful Departed This November

 

Only when I came back to the Church a few years ago did I hear the phrase, “Eternal Rest grant unto them, O Lord; and, may Your Perpetual Light shine upon them.” It was a confusing prayer and I wasn’t quite sure why it was used. However, in the past few years, I have learned a little more about the teaching of the Church, and spent time pondering this short prayer.  

The first year after reverting back to the Catholic Church, November came and went and I didn’t think too much as I celebrated the obligatory Holy Day of Obligation on November 1st, the Solemnity of the Feast of All Saints. I didn’t bat an eyelash the first couple years about the day after–November 2nd, the Feast of All Souls. However, as I sat with the Diary of St. Faustina, a tome I have yet to complete, the realization of the prayer mentioned earlier struck me. Since then the Feast of All Souls has become permanently embedded in my brain. In fact, I must confess, I actually prefer the Feast of All Souls over the day preceding it.

The word purgatory will never be found in the Bible. Because of that, many Protestant denominations will give that as evidence it does not exist. While the name may not be there, however, the theology is loudly and clearly written in several places. Few know that the biblical support for purgatory is one reason Martin Luther removed the book of Maccabees from the Bible. In addition to other teachings, Luther disagreed with the Catholic teaching of sanctification, therefore, he wasn’t a fan of a soul having to go through a “purification” after death to enter heaven. 

God is perfect. He is perfection. Through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, we are saved and God as present Father, Son and Holy Spirit is pristine, without blemish, and perfect. Christ himself, as he hung on the Cross, was perfection–the “unblemished lamb” required for the Passover meal (see Brant Pitre’s book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, for expanded teaching on that subject).

If heaven is home to our perfect God, then heaven must be perfect, too. In Judaism, the Temple houses the Holy of Holies, which is so special that only the most select, purified rabbis are allowed to enter. In Catholicism, the tabernacle is God’s dwelling place outside the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. That gold box is adorned, beautiful, and sacred because it houses God himself, as he is present in the bread of the Eucharist!

While we approach God as stained sinners, he cleanses us of our sins! Through Baptism and Confirmation, we are cleansed and draw strength to undergo sanctification. Through Reconciliation, we can be continuously cleansed of sins. Before receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, we should not have sinned mortally and we confess our venial sins at the beginning of Mass. In 1 Corinthians 11:27, St. Paul was clear we must receive the Eucharist in a worthy state. The rest of that chapter then details how to ensure we are worthily receiving Christ in the Eucharist.

But what happens when death is sudden? When we have received Jesus “unworthily” or failed to make amends for my massive slip-ups? How can our dirty soul enter perfection and embrace an unblemished Lamb without leaving him dirty?!

ENTER THE TEACHING OF PURGATORY!

Simply, purgatory is God’s final act of mercy for repentant sinners. If we die before cleansing ourselves entirely of sin through the sacraments, then God mercifully allows us to undergo purification so we may dwell with him forever.

To me, that teaching is exquisite!

Yes, Jesus died for our sins and paid the eternal price for our offenses against an infinite God. But we will still be accountable for the earthly effects of our sins, for which we can make amends in this life and in purgatory. We are all sinners, yet we fail in faith or in good works, so we are given one final opportunity for spiritual cleansing. Scripture compares purgatory to a cleansing “fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). 

We are called to pray for those who are undergoing this merciful spiritual cleansing. We know from 2 Maccabees 12:46 that the Jews “made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.” This leads to the Catholic teaching that we can be absolved of our sins after death. Those still on the journey here on earth have an obligation to “make atonement” for those who are suffering this final purification. This is why praying for the dead is a spiritual work of mercy for Catholics. 

The universal Church recognizes this every November, through All Souls Day. Through dedicating the entire month to Holy Souls, the Church actually asks us to focus specifically on those in Purgatory. We pray for them, add Mass intentions, fast, and perform other good works that we offer up for them. We also can offer our struggles on behalf of the holy souls in purgatory. But our attention to these souls should not wane come December.  

This October, I was in daily Mass and thought about an inspirational, holy man who, like my grandparents in the image attached to this post, had passed away. Without knowing it, this man significantly impacted my spiritual life. I expect he will be a saint–not canonized, but still a member of the Church Triumphant in heaven. Yet, because I cannot presume to know God’s plans for this man, I offered that Mass for him in my heart. 

As I glanced around the chapel that day, I began to worry for the holy souls in purgatory who do not have anyone praying for them. My works can contribute to absolving souls of their sins, but how many are left begging us to make atonement so their soul can taste the relief only found within the Celestial Kingdom? I have names I can pray for, but how many souls are not remembered explicitly by name because their families do not pray for them?

I left Mass that day resolute, determined to double my efforts to remember the holy souls throughout the year and I have added Stories About Purgatory and What They Reveal to my reading list. As members the Church Militant, we are all called to this. Many people fear death and I admit that I squirm at the thought of my own purgatory. Yet I expect some slight relief from God’s final act of mercy, which will lead my soul to be able to fully embrace the unblemished Lamb.

And nothing could be more beautiful!

So, will you please join me this month in praying for, fasting for, and sacrificing for the holy souls of purgatory? Is there a soul in your life you would like me to pray for? I would be honored to add their name to my list! And will you join me in reciting the prayer that confused me just a few years ago, but brings me much comfort today?

ETERNAL REST GRANT UNTO THEM, O LORD; AND MAY THE LORD’S PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON THEM.

Categories
Charla Ink Slingers

Fear of Mortality

fear of mortalityA string of recent celebrity demises has struck many fans profoundly. It is shocking, tragic, and downright sad when we think that icons of secular society are human just like the rest of us.  Their talent was inspiring and imagining the world deprived of their gifts is depressing.

The most impactful part of these deaths is that it forces us to face our own mortality. We realize that those we think of as vibrant and lively individuals succumb to ailments such as cancer and pneumonia, just like the rest of humanity. If the “Goblin King,” “Snape,” and the founder of The Eagles are gone just like that, then what does that mean for the rest of us?  Their immortality rests in their incredible, exceptional, artistic abilities, so it begs the question: Must we too be immortal in such a way?

The human sides of us have a longing for some type of fame. There is a small bit of desire for popularity and prominence within everyone. It is nice to feel important, to know we have made a difference, and that our lives we lived actually meant something. This may indeed come from that want for immortality—the resistance to death and dying.  None of us want to die.  There is an uncertainty and fear. What happens when this is all over and we are forgotten?

Fortunately, our belief as Catholics leaves us, hopefully, with a healthy understanding of death.

“I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ said the Spirit, ‘let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them.’” (Revelation 14:13)

There is a hopefulness that accompanies death. Our works and our faith bring us to a belief in the immortality of our souls. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Christian who unites his own death to that of Jesus views it as a step towards him and an entrance into everlasting life.” We believe in everlasting life, therefore the thought of death should only scare us if we fail to seek Christ. We also know we must be patient in achieving salvation after death. We need to really earn and understand the path to Heaven. I have always thought it sad that non-believers believe physical death is the end and that there isn’t more after this worldly life of suffering, pain, and fear.

However, the CCC also states “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” This is basically the definition of Purgatory. Purification is necessary therefore we must pray for those souls who have not reached Heaven yet.

What does this all mean for our own mortality? Seeking Christ, doing good works, and following the Church is a good start. Purgatory is a reality. Worldly fame and worldly talents are all well and good, but unless they contribute to seeking Heaven, they do nothing to support our true immortality. The fear of death and the unknown should only spur us on to goodness. Living for the hope of Heaven is key to expelling the fear that the realization of our own mortality instigates.

 

Categories
Adrienne Confession Ink Slingers Purgatory Spiritual Growth

Linking Confession and Purgatory [Part 2]

Zech Fire

 

In Part 1 of this two part series entitled Linking Confession and Purgatory, I explained the nature of the soul, one’s will, and how Confession impacts the will, stopping short of discussing Purgatory.  Now, let me tie this discussion back in to Purgatory, as the title promises will happen. 

As explained in Part 1, when we walk out of the confessional, our sinful will walks out with us despite the forgiven state of our actions.  And when it is we die, our will, the parts conformed to God’s will along with the parts perhaps not conformed with God’s will, remains intact with our immortal soul.  In other words, just as it happens that our forgiven and grace filled soul, walks out of the confessional complete with our still sinfully inclined free will, it similarly happens that upon exit from this Earth, our soul, hopefully still forgiven, grace filled and thus Heaven bound, exits this Earth with us complete with our own will, free as ever, which is usually still sinfully inclined in some areas.

Catholics and Protestants alike agree on the teaching that no sin can enter Heaven.  Where we disagree is how that is made possible.  I recently heard a Protestant pastor explain that when we die, we are immediately thrust into Heaven and are rendered by God incapable of ever sinning again.  Catholic teaching disagrees with this explanation because it would mean God violates our free will.  Since the source of our sinful actions resides in the sinfully inclined parts of our free will, an attribute of our soul, and since the life of our immortal soul is seamless despite the state and dwelling of our mortal bodies, a forced inability to sin cannot be of God, given His promise and gift of our free will. 

Why does it matter if our will is not completely conformed to God’s will when we enter Heaven?  Because, the angels.  The angels were created in a state of perfect Grace, residing happily in Heaven with God in perfect harmony, created also with free will.  Then it came that one third of the angels, lead by the Angel of Light, Lucifer, revolted against God and were cast out of Heaven, into Hell.  Thus, we learn that free wills not perfectly conformed to God’s Will might eventually revolt against God.  When God created us lower beings, humans, He gave us a generous span of time to conform our will to His own, such that when it is we are finally admitted to Heaven, it is because we have freely, perfectly freely agreed to reside there, according to His Will, His Rule, and we in our freedom we will never, ever, choose to leave as Lucifer and the fallen angels chose. 

The Church teaches that there are a blessed few souls who do experience the joy of transitioning straight from Earth to Heaven without delay.  Martyrs enjoy this privilege, as well as those rare persons who dedicated their Earthly lives in remarkable totality to a life of selfless obedience to God and thus who, with and by God’s Grace in their souls, died without any part of their own will out of line with God’s will.  The rest of us sinners, however, will be happy for the existence of Purgatory.  In God’s ever infinite mercy, upon our death if we have died in a state of His Grace, yet with parts of our will still out of line with God’s, He gives us extra time to straighten, or purge out, those sinfully inclined parts.  Purgatory.

1Cor savedWhy is it described as fiery, even hellish?    Well, think about it.  Why don’t you just stop sinning today?  Why don’t you just choose to conform every part of your will to God’s will right in this moment, without failing?  The answer, as it turns out, is because it is too hard, too painful.  Why are you spending that last bit of energy you have at night relaxing in your comfortable home instead of out serving the poor with the scraps of your time and money?  Because, honestly, it requires more suffering on your behalf.  Why is it you are forgoing discipline and enjoying dessert tonight instead of stopping short of fullness, even risking hunger pains?  Because, honestly, you would experience suffering if you didn’t indulge.  Why is it really that you will not speak out against the murder of abortion?  Because, honestly, you would suffer condemnation from others.  In the areas we aren’t willing to suffer on Earth, we choose our will over God’s.  So it is in Purgatory where we are left to suffer what it is to let go of our own will and choose God’s. 

Also, this is why time in Purgatory is undetermined.  Some souls may only need a short stint in Purgatory to conform to God’s will.  Others may bloody well need decades of suffering to finally conform.  That, I expect, will be my own soul.  Pray for me, friends, when I am gone.  And pray for all of your loved ones in Purgatory, especially those whose family and friends follow a faith tradition that teaches Purgatory isn’t real, those poor souls have almost no one praying for them! 

And so it is.  Why do we need Purgatory?  It is for the same reason we need Confession.  Frequent Confession.  Our wills are forever free and contained in our immortal souls.  May God bless our free will.  Literally. 

St. Gregory of Nyssa, A.D. 382, Sermon on the Dead

If a man distinguishes in himself what is peculiarly human from what is irrational, and if he be on the watch for a life of greater urbanity for himself, in this present life he will purify himself of any evil contracted, and overcome the irrational by reason.  If he has inclined to the irrational pressure of the passions … he may afterward, in a very different manner, be very much interested in what is better, when after his departure out of the body, he gains knowledge of the difference between virtue and vice and finds that he is not able to partake of divinity until he has been purged of the filthy contagion in his soul be the purifying fire.