When our loved ones die, we hope that they make it to heaven. That is why we pray for them.
The Mass is considered the highest form of prayer in the Church, and certainly the most powerful prayer that is said on behalf of those who are deceased.
The Church teaches that the reality is many of our loved ones go to purgatory, a time of purification and cleansing before being united with the Lord in heaven. We also know there is suffering in purgatory, but we remain in joyful hope that we and our loved ones eventually will reach heaven.
Our prayers, especially those said at Mass, help our loved ones move from purgatory to heaven. In fact, God said “Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Maccabees 12:45).
In the Mass, including funeral Masses, “the Church offers the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ’s Pasch for the dead so that, since all the members of Christ’s Body are in communion with one another, what implores spiritual help for some, may bring comforting hope to others” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 379).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also notes that “From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic Sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God” (1032).
If you listen to the Eucharistic Prayer, you’ll notice that it contains several intercessions, both for the living and for the dead. These are an expression that the Eucharist is celebrated in communion with the whole Church, both heaven and earth, and that an offering is made for the Church and all her members, both living and deceased. We are all called to participate in the redemption and salvation found within the Body and Blood of Christ.
Praying for the dead is a reminder that they may not be here with us, but they are not gone. Even when we pray for someone who has already reached heaven, we know that God will hear our prayer on behalf of someone else who needs it.
Prayer for the Dead
In your hands, O Lord,
we humbly entrust our brothers and sisters.
In this life you embraced them with your tender love;
deliver them now from every evil
and bid them eternal rest.
The old order has passed away:
welcome them into paradise,
where there will be no sorrow, no weeping or pain,
but fullness of peace and joy
with your Son and the Holy Spirit
forever and ever.
Source: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops