I have a question. I am learning about the Catholic Faith and one thing that bothers me is when a Catholic says my aunt so and so died, but I know she’s praying for me or when they say they ask a loved one to pray for them. How do you know that the person can pray for you - especially if that person ended up in Hell or is currently in purgatory. Also, I thought that most people when they died were “asleep in Christ” or “gone to their eternal rest”.
I’m confused. Can someone clear this up for me? Almost every question I’ve had so far about the Catholic faith so far has been cleared up pretty easily for me, but this one to me is a stumper.
We have to remember that the heavenly realm is outside of our idea of time. We say that people spend some “time” in purgatory, but we can’t really equate that to the way we clock time on earth.
God is outside of time and all things are possible with Him. Because all of time is as one big tapestry to Him, we can actually pray for someone who had surgery last Wednesday, and God will anticipate our prayer and apply it for that person at the time of their need.
I imagine it is much the same with purgatory. Even if at the time you are praying, your deceased aunt is still in purgatory, God will allow her to receive your request once she is released and the grace needed for that prayer will still be applied at the time you need it.
I couldn’t find anything in the catechism that spoke directly about whether or not souls can pray for us while still in purgatory, so I look forward to others’ responses.
I have no doubt that those in purgatory pray for us. Why wouldn’t they? I doubt that God would not let a soul do a good deed. After all, those in purgatory are being purged, making them already much purer than some of us are.
“Sleeping in Christ” or other similar expressions just means “died”. I know that some Protestants make a lot of this, and it has often been discussed in this forum and others. Just let me point out that Jesus speaks of Abraham as very much awake and also of Moses and Elijah when Jesus transfigurates.
As for the souls in purgatory, the Church teaches that we can pray for them and also that they can pray for us. Whether we pray to the saints, or to the souls in purgatory, they are ultimately prayers to God. God of course knows of our prayers and hears them. Whether they actually know of our prayers in the way we know things on earth and how all this works out is not really possible for us to understand in this world. But the testimony of millions of Catholics through history shows that it works.
One thing that I find interesting is that so many people seem to forget a very good passage of the Word of God on this in Hebrews 12:1 where it says,“1 And therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us:”
Now if the New Testament says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses as we run our race for the Lord, just what do we think those folks are doing? Ever been to race? No one sits there stoically, do they?
To me this passage makes it pretty clear that the faithful departed are not only aware of what we do (This of course by the will and power of God!), but they are actively interceding for us the way that race fans do.
I find it even harder to grasp how any soul that has won through so far as heaven or purgatory (knowing the struggles and spiritual warfare that all the “church militant” endures) would not be busily interceeding for those of us running our race that has such eternal consequences. That just doesn’t sound like any of the faithful believers that I have ever heard of.
I hope this helps.
I checked the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia and pasted below their text on invocation of the Holy Souls.
VII. INVOCATION OF SOULS
Do the souls in purgatory pray for us? May we call upon them in our needs? There is no decision of the Church on this subject, nor have the theologians pronounced with definiteness concerning the invocation of the souls in purgatory and their intercession for the living. In the ancient liturgies there are no prayers of the Church directed to those who are still in purgatory. On the tombs of the early Christians nothing is more common than a prayer or a supplication asking the departed to intercede with God for surviving friends, but these inscriptions seem always to suppose that the departed one is already with God. St. Thomas (II-II:83:11) denies that the souls in purgatory pray for the living, and states they are not in a position to pray for us, rather we must make intercession for them. Despite the authority of St. Thomas, many renowned theologians hold that the souls in purgatory really pray for us, and that we may invoke their aid. Bellarmine (De Purgatorio, lib. II, xv,) says the reason alleged by St. Thomas is not at all convincing, and holds that in virtue of their greater love of God and their union with Him their prayers may have great intercessory power, for they are really superior to us in love of God, and in intimacy of union with Him. Suarez (De poenit., disp. xlvii, s. 2, n. 9) goes farther and asserts “that the souls in purgatory are holy, are dear to God, love us with a true love and are mindful of our wants; that they know in a general way our necessities and our dangers, and how great is our need of Divine help and divine grace”.
When there is question of invoking the prayers of those in purgatory, Bellarmine (loc. cit.) says it is superfluous, ordinarily speaking, for they are ignorant of our circumstances and condition. This is at variance with the opinion of Suarez, who admits knowledge at least in a general way, also with the opinions of many modern theologians who point to the practice now common with almost all the faithful of addressing their prayers and petitions for help to those who are still in a place of purgation. Scavini (Theol. Moral., XI, n. l74) sees no reason why the souls detained in purgatory may not pray for us, even as we pray for one another. He asserts that this practice has become common at Rome, and that it has the great name of St. Alphonsus in its favour. St. Alphonsus in his work the “Great Means of Salvation”, chap. I, III, 2, after quoting Sylvius, Gotti, Lessius, and Medina as favourable to his opinion, concludes: “so the souls in purgatory, being beloved by God and confirmed in grace, have absolutely no impediment to prevent them from praying for us. Still the Church does not invoke them or implore their intercession, because ordinarily they have no cognizance of our prayers. But we may piously believe that God makes our prayers known to them”. He alleges also the authority of St. Catharine of Bologna who “whenever she desired any favour had recourse to the souls in purgatory, and was immediately heard”.
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Catechism of the Catholic Church #958 -- "...Our prayer for them * is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective."*
OK....I read this statement from the Catechism and what comes to my mind is how does the church know this?? How does the church KNOW that praying for the souls in purgatory makes their intercession for us more effective??
It is my understanding that those in purgatory may pray for us. Numerous saints have had visions or apparitions of souls in purgatory, sometimes even conversing with them. Remember that purgatory is a place of God’s grace. It is where we undergo final purification to enter into heaven. All the souls in purgatory are, in fact, saved. They simply do not yet stand in the presence of God in heaven, for no impure thing can enter heaven. Though they now rely on our prayers for help in their own process of purification, this does not preclude them from interceding for others.
As someone else has also already pointed out, we have no real understanding of how time in our created universe relates to time in heaven or purgatory. God created time when He willed the universe to be. It is a part of creation, which means that God and heaven, His eternal home, exist outside of time. This creates a metaphysical disconnect that we have no good way of thinking around. We cannot be sure how days, weeks, months, or years in this life correspond to life on the other side of the veil.
At a specific point in our historical timeline, Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, became a little babe through the womb of Mary. He lived, grew, engaged in His ministry, was crucified, died, and rose from the dead. It is a part of our history. But Jesus is also God the Son, and has been so since the very beginning–before time even began. We are told in the first chapter of John that He was the Word by which the Father created everything that has come to be. As God, Jesus’s every act is eternal in nature as well as a part of our history. His act of sacrifice for our salvation applies to every human who has ever lived from the beginning of time, to those of us who have come after Him, and to all who will live between now and the end of time as we know it. Therefore, heaven is open to us now upon our deaths, though we will not receive our resurrected bodies until the second coming of Christ at the end of time.
As to how we can know… well, we can’t always. Regarding who is in heaven, we may receive confirmation through miracles received by a saint’s intercession. When many people believe someone to be a saint and miracles are reported, the Church opens an investigation into the person’s life, death, and those reported miracles. This is the canonization process. The Church is quite meticulous and detailed in these investigations, and we can be assured that those who have been fully canonized by the Church are indeed in heaven. As for our less well known loved ones, we cannot be so certain. But we can always hope that our loved ones that have gone before us are in heaven or purgatory rather than in hell, and in that hope, we can ask them for their prayers (as well as offer ours for their quick and safe passage through purgatory). Occasionally, we may even be blessed to receive some sort of personal confirmation of our hope through our private prayers and devotions.
joclucsylv, we know it from divine revelation. Check out the Biblical passages cited in the other replies; there are others as well. If you were asking how we KNOW this or that particular person prays for us, as Seeking33 asked, then it’s less certain: a person could be in hell, after all.
More generally, Catholics know they pray for us because both we and they are in Christ, and praying for the good of the whole Mystical Body is what Catholics do – whether in heaven, in purgatory, or on earth. The souls in purgatory are, after all, holy and charitable (and becoming moreso!).