THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST: Eucharistic Prayer I (The Roman Canon) (12)

“Remember also, Lord, your servants N. and N., who have gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace.”

At the beginning of the Roman Canon there is a moment to pray for the living that includes the opportunity to pause in prayer and pray for them. Now, with the sacrifice of Our Lord’s Body and Blood on the altar, we pray for those believers who have died, and the priest or bishop celebrating Mass can once again pause in prayer for the dead.

It is a longstanding tradition of the Church to offer a Mass for a deceased loved one or friend, a tradition with roots even in the Old Testament: “For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Maccabees12:44–45).

We believe that the souls of the faithful departed at times need to undergo a purification before arriving at Heaven, and our prayers can help move that process along. Praying for the dead reminds us that they may not be here, but they are not gone: they know when we’re praying for them. Even when we pray for someone who has already reached Heaven we know that the Lord will hear our prayer on behalf of someone else who needs it.

The Roman Canon leaves a place for mentioning multiple people (“N. and N.”) : we all have many deceased people to remember and for whom we should pray. We may be separated from them, but they are not forgotten.

 “Grant them, O Lord, we pray, and all who sleep in Christ, a place of refreshment, light and peace.”

We don’t just pray for those we know. We pray for all the deceased, everyone for whom the salvation won by Christ has been fruitful. In hope we pray that Christ’s salvation has been fruitful. Some have lead pious lives, others have led sad and turbulent ones, but only in Heaven will we know how many people made it by the skin of their teeth or in a blaze of holy glory. Some die in solitude, with no loved ones left, so we step in as their loved ones. We can and should pray for people who’ve been a part of our lives, but, as Catholics, we also pray for the souls in purgatory, an anonymous brother or sister who needs our prayers too.

There’s a horrible expression that bears flipping: instead of “kill them all and let God sort it out,” let’s “pray for them all and let the Lord sort it out.”

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