by Jeffrey Arrowood
Holy days and liturgical seasons very often remind us of what we should be doing all year long. Advent and Lent are great examples. The spiritual disciplines that we observe so intensely during these liturgical seasons are supposed to get us back on track with the spiritual activities we’re supposed to be participating in every day – prayer, acts of charity, and acts of sacrifice. All Souls Day is another holy day that reminds us of a duty of love that Christians are called to – praying for the dead.
Burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy. Praying for the living and the dead is a spiritual work of mercy. Together these make up a very important practice of praying for all members of God’s family. God’s Family – the Church – is not separated by the veil of death. The Church Triumphant (those in Heaven), the Church Suffering (those in Purgatory) and the Church Militant (those on earth) are all one Church. Just as we pray for each other in this world, so we are called to pray for those in Purgatory, and so those in Heaven pray for us. We are all one family, supporting each other in prayer.
My family makes this a daily practice. We bought some colored Popsicle sticks and we wrote the names of all our deceased family members and friends, and all of our friends’ family members, who have died. These sticks are in a jar in the center of our table. After every meal, we pray the traditional “after meal prayer” that goes:
We give You thanks
For all Your benefits, almighty God
Who lives and reigns forever.
May the souls of the faithful departed,
Through the mercy of God
Rest in peace. Amen.
We then pull one of the sticks and pray “especially for” the person whose name is on the stick.
Eternal rest grant unto him/her, oh Lord
And let perpetual light shine upon him/her. Amen.
We then put the stick into a coffee cup adorned with an image of Mary – symbolically commending the soul of our loved one to Mary’s ongoing prayers.
This simple daily practice has offered us many benefits:
- It reminds our children (and us) that family members who have died have not ceased to exist, and have not ceased to be members of our family. We are still connected through God.
- It practices the virtue of charity, especially expressed through mercy.
- It reminds our children that Heaven, Purgatory and Hell are real.
- It gives us an opportunity to talk about death in a way that is not fatalistic or despairing, but full of hope and faith.
- It demonstrates the power of prayer.
- It keeps our family – living and dead – connected.
Hope is the virtue of trusting in God’s promise of Heaven. Exercise the virtue of Hope by praying for the poor souls in Purgatory. Teach your children that not even death separates us from God’s love, or from each other.