FIRST POINT — To pray for the dead is an act of charity towards our neighbor. One of the most important acts of charity is almsgiving. Now, St. Francis de Sales says that in praying for the souls in purgatory there is a true almsgiving. When you pray for these poor souls you clothe their nakedness, you furnish food for the hungry, you console the loneliness of those who are abandoned, you dry the tears of those who weep, and console the misfortune of those who are desolate; in a word, by this single act of praying for the dead you fulfil all the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. O charity for the dead, most worthy of exercising our faith and our piety ! How this excels all the other works of ordinary charity ! It has qualities which are wanting necessarily in other works of charity. It is most easy to perform, since we can always pray. It is opportune, since the need of the souls we assist is always real. It has the merit of being well placed, since we assist the elect. It has permanency, since eternal reward results from it, if by our prayer a soul in purgatory ceases to suffer because she has entered forever into the bosom of her God. But there is a more decisive consideration. It is that this almsgiving is not only a duty of charity; it is often a duty of justice. Here let us recall the past. Are there not among the souls in purgatory some parents, relatives, and friends of whom we were the occasion or the accomplices of the faults which they now expiate so rigorously? Are there not in purgatory some friends who suffer because they shared in the tepidity, the vanity, the uselessness of our life? Are there not there a father, a mother, or relatives who are deprived of the happiness of seeing God only to expiate a fatal condescension in yielding to our weaknesses, sparing our sensibilities, by refusing us, through love, a counsel, a reprimand, when religion commanded them to counsel or reprove us? Here there is no question of exercising charity towards them; it is a simple act of justice which we owe them to pray for them. We are now confronted by a great act of reparation. Let us pray, therefore, for these poor souls who are unhappy because of us. We should offer, or cause to be offered, for them the holy sacrifice of the Mass. It was for the dead that at first all the fruits of the sacrifice were applied; since Jesus, after His death, descended into Limbo, whence He delivered the just of the Old Law by applying to them the merits of the blood which He had just shed. The effects of this divine blood are still the same. When the priest, says St. John Chrysostom, offers the sacrifice of the Mass, the angels hasten near the altar; they gather in golden cups the blood of the New Alliance; they then fly towards heaven, penetrate the darkened abodes of the just souls in which they are purified; they pour out on them the precious blood, and their sufferings are lighter.
SECOND POINT — To pray for the dead is an excellent act of charity towards ourselves. Let us cast a look on our past life. How many infidelities we see; how many days, how many years, perhaps, have passed without grace or without the fervor of charity! True, indeed, we have repented; the sacramental absolution, joined to our repentance, has covered, before God, all the iniquities of the past. But if the stain no longer exists in the soul, the debt for the soul always exists; the sin no longer exists, but the obligation of punishment remains. Now, what penance have we done? Although we should give ourselves to God henceforth during our whole life, it shall be no less true that the portion of our existence which is behind that has been taken from Him. It is a void which our tears shall never fill; it is an abyss in which we shall look in vain for works of grace. It depends on ourselves to fill that void which seems irreparable. We have deprived God of a portion of our existence, then let us give to Him in exchange an other existence. We have taken from Him a portion of our soul; let us give to Him in exchange another soul; let us give Him many souls, and as many as possible. Behold how by prayer for the dead we shall repair the past. Prayer for the dead shall be useful for us in the present. When these souls shall have been delivered by our prayers, shall it be possible for them to remain indifferent to those who were here below the occasion and the instrument of their deliverance? Is not heaven the country of reward? Oh, how the delivered soul conjures God not to forget the souls who were on earth her benefactors! Oh, how in glory she intercedes and prays for us! in our temptations, what assistance! in our sorrows, what consolations! in our prayers, what help! in our agony, what support! And on the day of judgment, when we must give an account of our mission to Him who sent us to earth, what an advocate, what an intercessor we shall have prepared for ourselves by our charity! Let us therefore understand that by doing everything for the souls in purgatory we are doing everything for ourselves. And when at length it shall come our turn to quit this earth, and when it shall be necessary for us to suffer in expiation before reaching glory, how we shall rejoice at our charity today ! And then those souls unmindful of their brethren, who forget the dead, and who have in their heart neither a remembrance nor a prayer — God shall permit that they shall be forgotten, as they themselves forgot the dead. But on compassionate souls the words of the Son of God shall be accomplished: "It shall be measured for you, as you yourself have measured for others." Their memory shall be treasured in the minds of the faithful as the memory of the dead remained living in their thoughts. They shall speak their name at the holy altar when they shall have pronounced the names of those who have preceded them in glory! Ah, how they shall then rejoice that they had heard the counsels of the Church and followed them! How they shall praise those practices which were so easy and which shall have been for them so fruitful!
O my God, enkindle in my heart devotion for the dead. To pray for them is to contribute to Thy glory; it is to practice charity towards our neighbor and to labor for ourselves. May I understand it, and seize every opportunity of accomplishing a duty which is as much for the interests of my salvation as for the interests of Thy glory.
Source: Short Instructions for Every Sunday of the Year and the Principal Feasts, Imprimatur 1897