Romans chapter 6
I suggest that before reading this reflection you might gain a little background by reading, "Prayer is for lovers only" and "What is it like to be dead?"
Prayer is conversing with God. It requires thoughts but no words. All that is necessary is an attempt to share our thoughts with God or, in other words, to be aware of His presence as we think, plan, imagine, regret, wonder, hope etc. Prayer is then two or more spiritual beings in communion with each other, one of whom is God.
When our mortal body has served its purpose and we are seen to be dead, the knowing, loving self is confronted by absolute truth and goodness, for such is the nature of God. Against the backdrop of this ultimate reality we see the whole canvass of our lives. Nothing remains hidden. Situations, which we have conveniently forgotten, are exposed in detail. All of us, even the most worthy men and women of every generation, with the exception of Our Blessed Mother, will know and suffer our own personal unworthiness. But we have been saved and cleansed by the Blood of the Lamb and this purgation will be completed under his loving yet steady gaze and then our spirits will soar in gratitude and eternal happiness.
From the moment of death, time, which is but the measurement of motion, ceases to exist for us. The question of how long the period of purgation or of purgatory will last is clearly a non-sequitur; just as is the question of the location of the spirit of a dead person at any given time. When you are dead there is, to repeat, no "given time and /or place." Hard to imagine? Of course! As a matter of fact, it is impossible to imagine. None the less, we are dealing with a reality of the most certain kind. Divine Revelation.
Let us then put aside the obvious inaccuracies of language and understand that it is true to say that there is a sacred rhythm of pain and joy in the lives of the souls in purgatory. They are painfully aware of their sins and shortcomings and of opportunities lost and therein lies the essence of their suffering. But they are also filled with urgent love, glad hope and absolutely certain expectation. Doubt is forever removed from their consciousness. They know that they stand on the threshold of total and eternal fulfilment. Therefore the problem that you and I face in accepting, without doubt or reservation, all of what I am saying, is no longer a problem for them. So why pray for them? Their situation would seem to be a lot more certain and secure than is our own. Do you get the feeling that I am backing myself into a corner? Well you don't have to be a theological Houdini to get out of this one! The answer is really very simple if we can but get beyond the TIME and PLACE factor, which creates a natural mental block.
Praying for those who have died and offering Masses for their benefit is part of our Catholic heritage. It is based upon our concept of the Church as existing within three dimensions. Earth, Purgatory and Heaven.
In Romans chapter 6, Paul tells us: "... you have a harvest in your sanctification and your reward is eternal life." That "harvest" is complete at the moment of death. The season of earthly merit has passed. At that moment we move into a period of transition, a period of final preparation and purification. Though at this stage we will no longer be able to gain in merit for ourselves, we will still be able to share in the merits of others here on earth. This is because, united in the Body of Christ, we will still be, in death, members of The Church; bound to each other in Christian charity. What has changed is our level of existence. We have moved from the Church Militant to the Church Suffering and we stand before the entrance of The Church Triumphant.
Make no mistake about it, the suffering of which we speak is very real, but it can be tempered by God's merciful response to our prayers for the souls in purgatory. Every prayer is heard and every prayer is, in some way, answered. It is very likely that those for whom we pray are aware of our prayers and will intercede for us in Heaven.
Remember that "time" has nothing to do with it, so pray for "them" for the rest of your life. Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.