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Going straight to heaven

Q. What does the church teach about what happens after someone dies? The reason I bring it up is that often when I attend a Catholic funeral, I hear the priest say in a homily that the deceased is now in heaven and suffering no more. But how does that fit in with the church's teaching on purgatory? (Chesapeake, Va.)


A. The primary purpose of a funeral Mass is, of course, to pray for the salvation of the deceased — that God will bring the person quickly and gently into the joy of heaven. The liturgy also serves to remind mourners of Christ's offer of eternal redemption and to lift the spirits of the bereaved in the glory of that hope.


In praying for those who have died, we are building upon the ancient Jewish practice, according to which Judas Maccabeus made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sins (2 Mc 12:46).


In answer to a frequently asked question, the Catholic Church does still believe in purgatory, a purification after death before entrance into heaven, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 1030).


True, the church does not teach that everyone who dies must necessarily pass through this cleansing and admits the possibility that certain of the deceased may have practiced such fervent charity on earth that, at the point of death, no temporal punishment would remain (No. 1472).


But I think that it's safer to assume, along with Chapter 24 of the Book of Proverbs, that even the good person falls seven times and that many of us will have some "make up work" to do after we die.


Like you, I, too, have heard funeral homilies that seemed to consider it a certainty that the deceased already had passed into paradise. But I, for one, would much prefer at my own funeral that the priest ask people to pray for me — in case I am still en route. Thus, the wisdom of the Catholic funeral ritual, which prays that the deceased will be cleansed of any sin and granted "the fullness of redemption."

Questions may be sent to Fr. Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018