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Father's Focus: Catholic Disciplines at the Time of Death

The month of November is spiritually dedicated to remembering our deceased loved ones in prayer.  This aspect of our Catholic heritage deeply shapes our Catholic thinking.  As Catholics we accept the reality of purgatory as found in 2 Maccabees 12:43-46 and 1 Corinthians 3:15.  Persons who are not purified before death receive purification after death so that “nothing unclean (Rev 21:27)” shall enter heaven.  Purgatory completes the work of perfection so that the human soul can enter completely into the presence of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

For this reason we, as Catholics, have the habit of praying for the dead.  We do not assume that the dead have automatically entered into heaven after death.  Rather we carry an active concern for the dead and practice disciplines so that the grace of God might complete their purification and enter them into the eternal kingdom more quickly. 

And so as Catholic Christians we have the habit of offering Masses for the sake of souls, especially of our deceased loved ones.  We offer rosaries for the dead, Vigil services, the Office of the Dead and the Funeral Liturgy.  This liturgy is not only a celebration of the life of the person but more importantly it is an intercession for that person at the crucial time when the soul meets God as a just judge.  We also visit gravesides and offer certain holy actions on behalf of the dead such as praying a family rosary, offering the Stations of the Cross, meditate on scripture and pray in the Adoration chapel.   

Our Catholic thinking means that we realize that when we too die we want other people to pray for us.  Catholic mind allows us to live with a certain fear and trembling that the scriptures prescribes for us, “Work out you salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).”  We know that there is a process of purification even in this life that can shorten the purification in the life to come.  And so in our daily thinking we offer our daily sufferings both for our own purification as well as offering them on behalf of our deceased loved ones.. 

Finally at the moment of death there are special graces are poured out upon a person who is at the last moments of their life.  We encourage our loved ones to make a good confession, to receive their last communion (Viaticum), we ask a priest to give the anointing of the sick and the Apostolic blessing.  This blessing removes time in purgatory through permission of the pope.  And it is very important to know that it can also be received even in situations when priests cannot be present by requesting it from God.

All of these are disciplines of Catholic Christians.  So take time this November to think about those who have died, pray for them and increase your own disciplines so that we are all ready for a happy death.