A friend of mine lost a family member which he was very close to last week. His aunt was very devout and was a shining example to everyone of the Catholic faith. We attended the funeral mass yesterday, and afterward we were talking.
The question came up whether we should pray for his aunt, or ask his aunt to pray for us. We are confident that his aunt did not go to hell, but we are unsure whether she is in purgatory. So how do we know whether to pray for her, or ask her to pray for us?
Our stab was to say something like “If you are in heaven please pray for us. If you are not, we pray for your release from purgatory.”
Take all of this with a grain of salt because I’m not sure how orthodox it is, but:
Eternity is outside of time (that’s what it means), so the person in question, if they have gone into eternity, is not in purgatory in any time-constrained sense. Purgatory is (it seems, but this is speculative in the highest order) not a time-based condition: therefore those who are purged are purged immediately upon death.
God, Who is eternal, can apply your prayers to this person when they were in Purgatory (IF they were in Purgatory) no matter when you pray for her in this time-constrained world. (Remember, this is speculative: I’m pretty sure something like 40% of it can’t be true.)
So perhaps it is fine to go ahead and pray for her, and to simultaneously ask her for prayers, because prayers are spiritual/supernatural and don’t reach Heaven constrained by time.
My two cents is that souls in purgatory are able to, and thus certainly do, pray for us, even if they can’t pray for themselves. So either way you can definitely ask your dear departed to pray for you.
Otherwise I concur with the above post, God is outside of time and well able to apply your prayers at a time before you make them.
Pray for her. If she’s in Purgatory, she can use your prayers. If she’s not, it is certainly within God’s power to apply those prayers to another soul (in fact, if you do some digging on the AAA forum, you’ll find Michelle Arnold answering just this question).
Ask her to pray for you. Even if she is in Purgatory, she can still pray for you. She cannot, however, pray for herself.