Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
I think I heard this prayer for the first time when my grandpa passed away just before my 16th birthday. As a cradle Catholic, I’m sure I had heard it before, but never quite paid attention. However, this time it was different. You see, my grandpa was buried on my 16th birthday. Instead of celebrating my newfound freedoms and getting my driver’s license, my family and I were spending time at a funeral home and burying the first grandparent I had lost.
I remember what it looked like, how the chairs were set up and where the casket was placed in the room. We had all gathered together, my mom and her six brothers and all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins along with my grandma. There was a quiet time for us all to say goodbye and pray together before they closed the casket and we left for the funeral Mass at St. Mary’s.
I remember being struck by the simplicity of this prayer and how all of the grown-ups knew just how to respond. I didn’t realize then what I’ve grown to know now. That praying for the dead is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. That I’d be called upon to pray it for loved ones again and again over the coming years. Death isn’t something you think about a lot when you’re 16, you know? But, over time, it’s become a natural and real presence in my life and the lives of those I love.
I didn’t understand, back then, what it meant to celebrate the dead or even death itself. Why in the world would I want to do that? Couldn’t I just be sad that the people I loved were gone?
Well, of course I could. But the beautiful truth of our Catholic belief in a merciful God who loves us endlessly and desires us to be with Him always? That hadn’t quite sunk in yet.
See, we who are here on earth, still living and breathing and learning and loving and growing…we are given the opportunity and the responsibility to celebrate all those who have died and, more importantly, to pray for them. Celebrate those who have made it into that perpetual light of the glory of God. And pray for those for whom that light is a refining one; a light that is cleansing them and preparing them to live in love with God forever.
At that time, I hadn’t learned (am still learning, honestly) what death means to people of faith. Death doesn’t mean we are parted from our loved ones forever. It doesn’t necessarily mean that our fate is sealed when we take our last breath. And it doesn’t mean that there are only two options of what will happen to us in the end.
For all believers, heaven is the ultimate goal and hell is the very real, very horrifying alternative. But for the majority of us, I’d say, there’s a third reality to consider. Purgatory.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you I totally understand it. I can’t tell you how long it lasts or what it feels like. Nobody can do that. But here’s what I imagine.
When I had my oldest son, I wasn’t able to hold him right away. I didn’t even get to see him as he was whisked away for medical attention. There I lay, having worked so hard, having run the race and fought the fight, yet the prize was just out of reach. I could see a glimpse, but not entirely. I could feel the love that was there, but not in its fullness. There was still work to be done before that fullness of having him in my arms and resting in that love could be mine.
I imagine that Purgatory is like that…but to an unimaginable degree. Waiting and yearning with a desire you’ve never known before, with a reward greater than you can possibly imagine until it is granted to you.
So today, on the Feast of All Souls, I’ll be praying for all of the souls I’ve loved and lost. It is my honor and privilege to do so.
Eternal rest grant unto…
Grandma & Grandpa Dermody
Grandmother & Grandad Burch
Grandpa Tom & Grandma Dorothy
Grandpa George & Grandma Mary
and so many others
…oh Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Today, friends, who do you remember? How will you be celebrating and praying for them?