(It is a holy and wholesome thought
to pray for the dead.)
REFLECTION (clarifying
all doubts surrounding this belief)
Following the Solemnity of All Saints which the Church celebrated
yesterday, today She celebrates the Commemoration of the faithful departed – “ALL
SOULS”. With the celebration of the Saints in Heaven and the souls of the
faithful who died in Christ, we come about a full understanding of the faith we
profess: – “I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS”. What do we mean by the
Communion of Saints? By the Communion of saints, We believe that the “THREE
CHURCHES” are in communion with each other. Put differently, the saints in
heaven (the Triumphant Church) are in communion with the “saints” (we) on earth
(the Pilgrim Church/Militant Church) by their intercessions and prayers – this
was what I discussed yesterday. Also, we (the pilgrim Church) are equally in
communion with the holy souls in purgatory (suffering church), by our prayers, penance
and good works for them, so that they could gain admittance to heaven (the
triumphant church).
Before some fundamentalists would unleash their reactions and render
this belief unbiblical, let us quickly consider some explanations.
Purgatory is a doctrine greatly misunderstood,
ranging from non-Catholics to lukewarm Catholics. A proper understanding of its
meaning is imperative for a proper analysis of what we are celebrating today. Let
me begin by saying WHAT PURGATORY IS NOT: it is NOT the belief that we can pray
people into heaven from hell. Hell, like heaven, is eternal; neither will ever
pass away and those souls therein are consigned eternally. If this is so, what
then is purgatory?
Purgatory, on the other hand, is temporary.
Any soul in purgatory is destined for heaven inevitably. The popular
misunderstanding of purgatory, i.e., praying people into heaven from hell, is
therefore INCORRECT. Purgatory is the state, after death, where souls who are
not yet perfected in their love for God, are purified by fire before admittance
to the ALL HOLY GOD. What gets purified? – “unrepented venial sins”, that is,
sins that do not lead to “death” (cf. 1John 5:16-17).
According to this first letter of St. John, There are sins that lead to death,
and there are sins that do not lead to death. It is important to note that this
kind of “death” is the eternal death in hell. Hence, if there are sins that do
not lead to hell, where would it lead to? It would not lead to heaven either
because God and sin (even the minutest sin) cannot coexist. Just as we understand
from the scripture that “NOTHING UNCLEAN shall
enter the kingdom of God” (Rev. 21:27). Hence, those
sins that do not lead to death (hell), and do not lead to heaven either, must
lead to an intermediary state that necessarily needs purification to achieve
heaven. How is this possible? Does the scripture justify this?
In 2
Corinthians 5.10
, we
read: “For we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that
each may receive what is his due for the things done while in the body, whether
good or bad. What will happen to a Christian who appears before the judgment
seat of Christ with bad deeds? Paul gives us the answer in his first letter to
the Corinthians: “His work will be shown for what it is, because the Day
will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test
each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If
it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved by passing
through fire (as one escaping through flames)” (1Co
plainly tells us that Christians with bad deeds who approach Christ the Judge
will find themselves in a fire, burning away those deeds. Such a place is not
hell for Paul is speaking of saved Christians: “he himself will be
saved.” It cannot be heaven because it involves suffering by fire:
“he will suffer loss…as one escaping through flames.” Could it be on
earth during this life? For Paul “the Day” always refers to the day
we are judged. Hence, it would not be on earth. Where is this place where
Christians suffer loss by fire? IT MUST BE PURGATORY. Purgatory simply
means to purge away (to cleanse, to purify).
Dear friends in Christ, Purgatory is a
doctrine of DIVINE MERCY. It portrays the abundant mercy of God, a just God who’s
slow to anger and rich in mercy. Little wonder the psalmist says: “if you
O Lord should mark our guilt, who will survive? But with you is found
forgiveness, for this we revere you” (PS.130:3-4). It is a recognition
that most Christians are not so evil as to warrant hell and most are not yet
perfected as to warrant immediate entrance into heaven. Purgatory makes perfect
According to the Catechism of the Catholic
Church, 1030: “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. In CCC 1031, The Church gives the name Purgatory to
this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the
punishment of the damned. In CCC 606, The tradition of the Church, by reference
to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire (1Peter 1:71Cor.3:15). Thus,
as for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment,
there is a purifying fire.
This is why we pray today for the “Suffering Church” in Purgatory, that
is, the dead ones suffering from fewer blows to be released from their
suffering. Little wonder we inscribe “R.I.P” at the tomb of those who have
died. What does this mean? The acronym R.I.P., meaning “rest in
peace”, is a direct translation of the Latin words ‘Requiescat in pace’.
‘Requiescat in pace’ was a offered prayer to God, in the hope that the soul of
the deceased person would find peace in the next life. It simple terms it was a
prayer for the dead. Its origins are found in Hebrew in the Old Testament of
the Holy Bible in the Book of Isaiah chapter 57 verse 2: “Those who walk
uprightly enter peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”
Hence, it was a prayerful request that the souls of those who have died should
find peace in the afterlife. And I guess you might be tempted ask: “Is it
biblical to pray for the dead?” It is VERY BIBLICAL, aside; it is a cultural,
holy and wholesome thought. Let us consider the few biblical passages:
– 1 Samuel
31: 8-13: “On the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they
found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. And they cut off his
head, and stripped off his armour, and sent messengers throughout the land of
the Philistines, to carry the good news to their idols and to the people. They
put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth; and they fastened his body to the
wall of Bethshan. But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the
Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose, and went all night,
and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of
Beth-shan; and they came to Jabesh and burnt them there. And they took their
bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted for seven days.”
– In 2Timothy 1: 16-18: “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of
Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, but
when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me; may the Lord
grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day; and you well know all the
service he rendered at Ephesus.”

ONESIPHORUS. Note the past tense
in all of Paul’s references to him, and how Paul prays for his family remaining
I believe we
can see for ourselves why it is necessary to pray for the dead – for those who
have gone to purgatory in order that they may be freed from their punishments.
Therefore, that the Saints in heaven are helping us with their prayers, and
we are praying for the souls in purgatory (as celebrated today) – the commemoration
of all those who have died, imploring the divine mercy of God on them all; the
Church in her wisdom, came about the doctrine of “THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS”.
This is the faith that we profess in the creed, and may this faith
bring our hope to fulfilment, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us pray:
“Remember those, O Lord, who have died in your peace, but may not
gain love’s high reward, till Love is purified…” In a special way I
remember the souls of my beloved ones: Mr. Donatus Mbaeri (my dad), Alex and
Henry Mbaeri (my brothers), Felix and Priscilla Mbaeri (my uncle and his wife),
Ngozi Odikanwa, Michael Mbaeri, Chinwa Odikanwa and Rose Odikanwa and other departed relatives and
friends, and also those who have no one to pray for them. May the good and
merciful Lord grant mercy on their souls on this special day set aside by the
Church. Amen.
May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God
rest in peace. Amen.
Kindly say a prayer today for your loved ones.



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Chinaka Justin Mbaeri

A staunch Roman Catholic and an Apologist of the Christian faith. More about him here.

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