Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Does Ali need our prayers?

If it is my conviction that Ali is a saint (as I have said previously on this blog), is there any need to pray for her? And why should there be a Requiem Mass for the repose of her soul, as there was for her anniversary on Wednesday?

The best answer I can give to the questions is that the Church recommends that we pray for the dead, and there is no better prayer than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass is the sacramental perpetuation of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on behalf of fallen humanity, so that our sins may be forgiven and that we may be able to live in union with God - imperfectly on earth and perfectly in heaven. It is only through that Sacrifice that the possibility exists for Ali to be in heaven.

A Requiem Mass expresses the desire that the particular person or persons being prayed for may be united with God in heaven.  It may well be that the desire expressed in the Mass has already been fulfilled. If I recall correctly, St Pio of Pietrelcina  (Padre Pio) said that he offered Masses for the repose of the soul of his mother even though he knew she was in heaven - because he knew that her early admittance to heaven was in anticipation of those Masses.

The Church recommends that we pray for the dead because most of us are not ready to meet God face to face when we die.  We need to be purified to become ready for eternal union with God. This purification - called purgatory - is understandably regarded as a period of trial and suffering. In his beautiful poem, The Dream of Gerontius, Blessed John Henry Newman describes the journey of a soul to God, and mentions that the period of purgatory is aided by Masses on earth and prayers from heaven.

There is a part of the Dream of Gerontius that strikes me each time I read it, and especially when I hear it in Elgar's setting of it. The soul of the old man who has died (Gerontius) has the briefest of glimpses of God and in that instant recognises his unworthiness to enter into God's presence, and his need for purification:

Take me away, and in the lowest deep
              There let me be,
And there in hope the lone night-watches keep,
              Told out for me.
There, motionless and happy in my pain,
              Lone, not forlorn,—
There will I sing my sad perpetual strain,
              Until the morn.
There will I sing, and soothe my stricken breast,
              Which ne'er can cease
To throb, and pine, and languish, till possest
              Of its Sole Peace.
There will I sing my absent Lord and Love:—
              Take me away,
That sooner I may rise, and go above,
And see Him in the truth of everlasting day.

Much of the reason for my conviction that Ali is already in union with God in heaven is that I believe she experienced on earth much if not all of the purgatory that most of us require after we die. She had experienced God's love and mercy, and she sought to love Him with all her heart, mind and strength, which she demonstrated in loving others, at great personal cost.  She had an appreciation of the awesomeness of God, how much (in fact, everything!) she owed Him, and of her littleness in relation to Him.  Ali was profoundly humble.  Far from believing that she had 'achieved' anything in life, her tearful lamentation on the Saturday, three days before she died, was "I got everything wrong."  

It is my understanding that the Church does not allow eulogies at funerals (even though they sometimes take place.)   In any case, Ali had specified that there should be no eulogy at her funeral. She knew that praise would be of no benefit to her,  and she anticipated (rightly or wrongly) that, like others, she would need prayers to assist her after death.  

There is a tendency nowadays to proclaim that those who have died instantly enter heaven, in which case there is little else to do than sing their praises.  Many lose sight of the fact that those who have died normally need purification and are aided by our prayers.  I believe that Ali is among the greatest of the saints in heaven, but that most of us are likely to need a period of purification before becoming among the least of the saints in heaven.

In due course the Church will decide whether to investigate Ali's cause for canonisation.  Only the act of canonisation itself is a definitive, infallible act of declaration that someone is with God in heaven, though the earlier stages of the process (during which the person under consideration is given progressively the titles Servant of God, Venerable and Blessed) reflect the Church's growing conviction that he or she is.

I can express only my personal conviction, but I cannot say infallibly, that Ali is a saint in heaven. The Church encourages us to pray for the dead, and I agree with that wise encouragement.

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