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!