Praying for the Dead – And A Cautionary Tale

A requiem Mass celebrated on the outdoor altar in my parish, located near the bishops’ graves in the courtyard. This altar faces due East!

Two of the three past/deceased bishops of the Diocese of Birmingham are buried in our courtyard beside the Cathedral of St. Paul. The most recent to be buried there was Bishop David E. Foley, bishop of the diocese from 1994 to 2005, but remaining here afterwards and continuing to serve tirelessly until just before the Lord called him home in Spring 2018. He was very beloved, and he had a pious death.

As Rector of the Cathedral, it has been touching for me to see so many people stopping to say a prayer at Bishop Foley’s grave – often at unsuspected times. As I said during his funeral rites, Bishop Foley’s greatest fear was that people would not pray for him in death. By publicizing that fear so effectively, he now has many people praying for him.

Recently (a little over a week ago), our Cathedral Fraternus chapter sponsored a Mass in remembrance of Bishop Foley, celebrated by one of our diocesan priests on the outdoor altar that flanks the bishops’ graves (pictured above). It was a traditional Latin requiem with absolution over the grave. The outdoor altar depicts the Death of St. Joseph in marble relief:

In that way we fulfilled Bishop Foley’s request to pray for him in a particularly effective way: by offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass for his intention. The sung Mass (Missa Cantata) – the first Mass to be celebrated on that outdoor altar, in fact – was exceedingly beautiful.

This morning, after our regular Saturday morning Mass of Our Lady, I led a group of parishioners and friends to visit the large old cemetery in town where many of our priests are buried, including Father Coyle. We prayed a rosary in order to gain the plenary indulgence for the faithful departed:

The celtic cross monument marks the spot where Fr. Coyle is buried.

During the Mass this morning I had recounted in the homily a bit of a cautionary tale I recently read on an Italian blog that I follow. A favorite genre, for sure. This tale fits in well with Bishop Foley’s wishes and our work of mercy of today, of going to pray for the dead. Here is my translation, preserving the unique/charming punctuation and style:

From the writings of Fr. Giuseppe Tomaselli (1902-1989)

In this time of moral miseries, in order to justify one’s moral weakness one says: The passions are too strong and I can’t always resist!… Besides, after sinning I go to Confession! –

Others say: I don’t commit grave sins! I always err in some little trifles, that are inevitable!… But there are some who sin more than I, and with greater gravity! –

When someone dies, it is commonly said: What a holy person! How much good they did! He has certainly gone to Heaven! –

On tombs the most untruthful and flattering inscriptions present the departed as models of illustrious virtue.

Our true self is what we are in the sight of God. Man judges humanly and often falls in error. But God’s judgments are most exact, and it is necessary to meditate on their strictness in order to live the most holy life possible; also to be of assistance to those who, having departed from this valley of tears, now make atonement in Purgatory for the sins they committed on earth.


How I suffer!…

On February 3, 1944, an old lady died at almost 80 years of age. She was my mother. I had the opportunity to see her dead body in the cemetery chapel, before the burial. As a priest I thought: You, O woman, from what I can tell, have never gravely violated a single commandment of God! – And I reminisced about her life.

As a matter of fact, my mother always set a great example, and I owe my priestly vocation to her in great part. She went to Mass every day, even in old age, with the crown of children. She went to communion daily. She never missed the rosary. She was charitable to the point of even losing an eye while completing an act of profound charity towards a poor woman. She was always in uniformity with God’s will, even to the point of asking me while my deceased father was lying in state in the house: What can I say to Jesus in these moments to please him? – She repeated: Lord, may your will be done!

On her death bed she received the last sacraments with living faith. A few hours before dying, suffering so greatly, she was repeating: O Jesus, I wish you would decrease my sufferings. But I do not want to go against your will: your will be done!… – Thus that woman, who brought me into the world, died.

Basing myself on the concept of Divine Justice, and worrying little about the eulogies that acquaintances and even priests might have given about her, I intensified my prayer for her soul. I offered a great number of Holy Masses, many acts of charity, and wherever I preached, I exhorted the faithful to offer communions, prayers, and good works in suffrage for her.

God permitted my mother to appear to me. I studied the matter and I had brilliant theologians look closely at it also, and it was decided: It was a true apparition! –

My mother had been dead for two and a half years. And suddenly she appeared in my room under human appearances. She was very sad.

– You left me in Purgatory!…

– You have been in Purgatory until now?

– Yes and I am still here!… My soul is surrounded by darkness and I cannot see the Light, who is God!… I am at the threshold of Paradise, close to eternal bliss, and I long to enter there; but I cannot! I have said so many times: If my children knew of my terrible torments, ah!, how they would come to my aid!…

– Why didn’t you come earlier to tell me?

– It was not within my power to do so.

– You have not yet seen the Lord?

– As soon as I died I saw God, but not in all his splendor.

– What can we do to free you right away?

– I need one single Mass. God has permitted me to come and ask this of you.

– As soon as you enter Paradise, return to share the news!

– If the Lord will permit it!… What Light… what splendor!… – Speaking thus, the vision vanished.

Two Masses were celebrated and after one day she reappeared, saying: I have entered into Heaven! –

After all that I have set forth, I say to myself: An exemplary Christian life, a great quantity of prayers… and two and a half years of Purgatory!… Totally different than the judgments of men!

[Passage taken from “I nostri morti – La casa di tutti”, by Fr. Giuseppe Tomaselli]

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