Thursday, June 21, 2012

Funeral Card Friday - Praying for the Dead

Today, I'm not sharing one particular Funeral Card, but sharing/explaining something that many will see on Memorial and Funeral Cards, but may not understand. Indulgences.

Now, this isn't an "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Indulgences, But Were Afraid to Ask" post.  I'm not an expert on all the intricacies of indulgences nor do I feel that it is important to explain how the praying of an indulgence doesn't help every sin.  That's besides the point.  If you'd like to know more than what I'm presenting on indulgences you can check out more on "Catholic Answers".  What I want to do is explain why they are on these cards and why the living pray for the dead.

Catholics are taught that there is a Purgatory.  That when we die a soul goes to Purgatory until their sins are atoned for.  Purgatory is like jail for the soul.  If you are in Purgatory, you will eventually go to Heaven.  If you go to Hell, well, you go to Hell.  Sorry about your luck (but that really doesn't stop Catholics from praying for those either...forever hopeful).  We naturally like the thought of our loved ones getting to Heaven sooner, so we pray for them.  Does it help?  God only knows, but it couldn't hurt, right?

Card & indulgences in German
Catholics aren't the only ones to pray for the dead.  Other faiths have this practice as well, but Catholics may be the best known for it, because indulgences have been abused in the past as well as misunderstood by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  The bottom line on the abuse of indulgences, or the "selling" of indulgences is that we don't really know that God will accept them.  A corrupt clergyman "selling" an indulgence...well, I could sell you a bridge in New York too and that would be about as worthless.

Indulgences went out of practice in the 1960s, but I'm told that the Catholic Church was bringing them back to some extent.  So you may notice them on cards up to and including the 1960s and then not in more recent cards, but don't be surprised if they start appearing again!

So on the back of many of the cards, when you see a certain number of "days of indulgence" are granted for praying the card's prayer or for saying so many "Hail Marys" or "Our Fathers" we are talking about a period of time lessened for the person that died.

Why does/did the Catholic Church encourage the praying of indulgences?  "...To spur them to works of devotion, penance and charity...", and that doesn't sound like a bad thing to me.

A "quarantine" is equal to 40 days

*Some interesting information in the comments below from someone a lot more familiar with the intricacies of Catholicism than this old Catholic! Check it out!


  1. I'd never heard of a quarantine. New one to me. I can't believe I ever believed in indulgences.

  2. I stumbled across this post today, and even though it is old, I'd like to clarify something.

    First is that indulgences were never really done away with, but after the council, the Raccolta, the handbook of indulgences if you will, was replaced by a smaller and uber simplified handbook of indulgences called the Enchiridion. Pope Paul VI abrogated the Raccolta, so none of the old pre Vatican II acts and prayers of indulgences actually are indulgences anymore. The only indulgences the Church currently dispenses are found in the Enchiridion. That's not to say that the old indulgenced acts and prayers aren't spiritually beneficial or won't even lessen a stay in Purgatory, only that the Church herself doesn't offer them.

    The second thing is to the time periods associated with indulgences. The time periods themselves were done away with at the council as well, partially due to the confusing nature of including them. Many people think that a prayer that had, for example, 500 days attached to it meant that you spent 500 days less in Purgatory. But this is not what the time period meant. It meant that the prayer was equal to doing 500 days of Penance, from back in the old days when confessors would give public penances. Currently indulgences are partial or plenary meaning they either partially remove time that will be spent in Purgatory or they completely eliminate Purgatory (if you were to die the exact moment you completed it). Of course, there are far more requirements for the dispensation of plenary indulgences, and I'm not sure that it is humanly possible to even meet the requirements.

    In any case, indulgences are a very interesting part of Catholicism, and as a convert to the Church, its one of those things I really love!

    1. Very interesting! Thank you for commenting an sharing your knowledge! Do you know what "quarantines" meant (or mean)? I still don't quite understand the day of penance. If it's not days of penance from purgatory days from what? During a person's lifetime? Like after confession?

      Born and raised Catholic which generally means raised in ignorance. :) Converts know so much more. Thanks again!

  3. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia a quarantine is equal to a strict 40 days penance assigned by a confessor, so 5 quarantines would equal 200 days.

    Here is an example of the days of penance. Way back in the early church, if you were to confess a mortal sin, like murder, for instance, your confessor might give you a penance of say dressing in sackcloth and ashes and begging for alms at the doors of the Church for 40 days. Therefore an indulgenced prayer with 40 days would make the same satisfaction for sin as that previous 40 days penance would do.