Skip links

Why do Catholics pray for the dead? — and other questions about purgatory answered

On All Souls’ Day, the Catholic Church remembers all those who have died and prays for them in a particular way.

But why do Catholics pray for the souls of the dead — not only on Nov. 2 but also on any day of the year? And does the Church really believe in the existence of purgatory?

“The whole of the first millennium is unanimous in the prayer of Christians for the dead,” Father Paul O’Callaghan, a priest of Opus Dei, told CNA. “The idea of praying for the dead is very, very old.”

O’Callaghan, who teaches theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, answered this and other questions about purgatory in an interview with CNA.

“Purgatory is not an individualistic doctrine, where I sort of resolve and sort out my particular personal problems and sins and faults,” he underlined. “It’s something that the whole Church does together.”

Praying for the dead can invoke a great sense of solidarity with those who have died before us, the priest said. “As we’re praying for them, we’re kind of saying to ourselves, ‘Well, I hope somebody will pray for me.’”

O’Callaghan pointed out an important clarification, that “Christ is our Savior. Christ is the one who frees us from our sins.”

“But since the Church is the Body of Christ, the Church also cooperates in that process,” he said. “And that’s why the prayer of Christians [for the dead] is so, so valuable and so important.”

“I have often felt that the doctrine of purgatory … is one of the greatest signs of God’s mercy,” he added. “It’s saying to people, ‘Look, you know, we all will come to the end of our lives at some stage. And we all look back with regret, and a certain amount of fear, that we haven’t been as faithful as we should have been.’”

“It’s a beautiful thing that God is sufficiently … realistic about our fallen human condition that he provides us with the opportunity of being definitively purified after death,” he said.

Q. What is purgatory and why do souls go there?

The purpose of purgatory, O’Callaghan said, “is the purification of the human soul after death, of the faults and defects, and, as it were, gaps in their lives that still have to be clarified.”

The priest cited the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, who said purgatory achieves three things: forgiveness of venial sins, purification of sinful inclinations, and the removal of the temporal punishment due to sin.

The first two are purified by “the penetrating love of Christ,” he said.

Read more at Catholic News Agency 

Share with Friends: