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Debbie S. wrote:

Hi, guys —

My mom passed away earlier this month and we received many Mass cards.

  • What is the purpose of a Mass card?

Some of them said she will be a member for a certain period of time and their organization will pray for her during a certain period at specific Masses.

  • What are they praying for?
  • If she is in Heaven, why would she need our prayers? <I don't get it.>
  • Can our prayers now, here on earth, affect someone who has entered eternity?

Please help. I am very confused.

Thank you for your time.


  { What is the purpose of a Mass card if my mother is already in Heaven? }

Mike replied:

Hi, Debbie —

Good question!

I have to give some background before I answer your question.

None of us in the Church Militant, meaning those here on earth, know:

  • who is in Heaven, with exceptions, or
  • who is in Hell

Because, the primary goal of the Church on earth is the salvation of souls, the Church, after careful background studies, holds certain people up, who have lived very holy lives, as models of holiness for the members of the Church to follow. We know, for certain, these people are Saints, and the Church has affirmed, they are in Heaven.

They pray for us and we can ask for their help down here on our spiritual journey.

There are also many, many, many, many, many, many, many other people that lived holy lives who are also in Heaven.

We have to distinguish, though, between a moral certainty and an absolute certainty of a previous family member or acquaintance being in Heaven.

The Faithful in the Church have an absolute certainty that those people that the Church has declared, Servants of God are in Heaven. (They are saints.)

We can only have a moral certainty that your mother, and my father, for that matter, are in Heaven.

  • Why?

Because we witnessed the character of their lives, the sacrifices they made for us, their kindness, etc. Nevertheless, they could have died with some unrepentant venial sin or an attachment to sin where the appropriate penance had not been performed by them.

  • Could your mother or my father have died with no remaining self-love on their soul and gone straight to Heaven? <Sure!>
  • Is it probable? <Not likely, because of our human nature.>

Personal note: As a private devotion, I talk and pray to St. Stephen of North Sudbury, my father, on a daily basis. I also put him in charge of praying for certain things in my life in accordance with what he was good at. For example, He was a driver education teacher, so anything having to do with my car or my driving, I ask him to guide me in making the appropriate decisions. This keeps his real presence alive in my life, though he has passed on into eternity.

From the Catechism, under indulgences it says:

1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the eternal punishment of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory.

This purification frees one from what is called the temporal punishment of sin.

These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain. (cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1712-1713; (1563): 1820.)

To your question:

The purpose of Mass cards is to have Masses said for a departed loved one, who we have a moral certitude of the saintliness, but not an absolute certitude.

Your question reminds me of when the color of the funeral vestments for priests changed after Vatican II.

Before Vatican II, the Church generally used the color purple to represent a Lenten tone; one where we were encouraged to pray and do sacrifices for our faithful departed loved ones for the reasons I have mentioned above. Purple vestments were worn by the priests at all funeral Masses before Vatican II.

After Vatican II, to stress the hope that the congregation had of their faithful departed being resurrected, the Church generally changed the color of the vestments to white.

An unintended impression that could have been given to the faithful, was that there was no need to pray for their departed loved ones.

This is sad, because, though my dad and your mom may have been very holy people, they may have died with some remaining self love.

No one is saying either my dad nor your mom is in Hell; they are just being purified of any remaining self-love in the Spiritual Hospital in the Church we call: Purgatory.

My colleague Brian and I are trying to renew the practice of praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Check out our website.

The purpose of Mass cards is to offer our prayers and good works for their complete purification. (Revelation 21:27 - Nothing unclean will be allowed to enter into Heaven.)

One important side note: The purification process or Purgatory has nothing to do with one's salvation. These are two completely separate issues. Purgatory only has to do with one's holiness!! Those in Purgatory have been saved by the Lord. Period!!

If they, in reality, have no need for the Mass cards that are being offered for them, because they are in Heaven and completely purified, the Charity of God would reason that the graces from those Masses would be applied to other family members and their ancestors within the family who have passed away with remaining self-love; or to other families with family members in similar situations.

Hope this helps,


Debbie replied:

Hello Mike,

Thank you for your time answering my questions.

I am still confused however. It seems like the thought of Purgatory cancels out the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. The Bible says that we have been sanctified through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:10). The Word of God also says: for Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18).

The Bible says that by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight. (Romans 3:20).

  • How can someone on earth provide good works to complete purification for a soul in Purgatory?

The Bible says we have been justified by faith (Romans 3:28, 5:1, read all of Chapter 4; Galatians 2:16, 3:11, 3:24 and James 2:24) . It does not make sense that Jesus would die on the Cross and say It is finished or Paid in full if there was more work to be done.

9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:9).

Thank you for your time,

Debbie S.

John replied:

Hi, Debbie —

It is good that you know the Scriptures so well. As former Protestant Minister, I misused those very same texts, exactly the same way you have done. I did so because I started with the presupposition, that the New Testament could be understood with a Western mind-set, which looks at everything as a simple binary equation or legal transaction.

When reading the New Testament, especially the works of Paul, one needs to be careful not to read it as a Western thinker would: in terms of a strictly juridical paradigm.

Christ died once and for all for our sins. Amen we agree. By Baptism and by faith we receive the righteousness of Christ. We are indeed declared righteous, but it's far more than a simple declaration of innocence and imputation of Christ's righteousness. Rather it is an actual infusion of Christ's righteousness. As such, it is not simply a static event. In fact, the Apostle Paul writes to the Philippian Church,

"He who began a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus". (Philippians 1:6)

So the work of Christ in us, can't be solely explained in terms of a one time legal declaration. Rather it is nothing short of Divine Sonship. Through faith in Christ we become adopted children who then must mature to become heirs of the Kingdom.

This maturity is only achieved by responding to grace. It is not of our own dead works, but nevertheless, inheriting the Kingdom is a dynamic process, in which Christ leads us and empowers us, but at the same time, it does continually require our free will cooperation.

You quote Ephesians 2:8-9. Amen sister, I'm with you. Now please read verse 10.

  • Doesn't it say something about walking in the works for which we were predestined?

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — 9 not because of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians (RSV) 3)

Now, with that foundation established, we can return to your question of Masses for the Faithful Departed.

Most of us are not fully perfected by the time we're dead. Yes, we are objectively justified in Christ [saved], but we have not been completely sanctified, so the process continues.

In the western Catholic Church, we've called it Purgatory. Some theologians have used various paradigms to explain it.

  • Some of these paradigms work better than others.
  • Some of them cause confusion.

Nevertheless, it can be boiled down to the Love of God burning away the dross until He has refined us and made us ready to fully enjoy His Love. So as Catholics, we continue to pray for the Faithful Departed, as we do for the living.

Unfortunately, some theologians have caused way too much confusion by describing Purgatory as a place of temporal punishment. While the paradigm is legitimate, it is woefully inadequate and, of course, when ever we hear the word punishment, we think of it in juridical terms. Nevertheless, this temporal punishment, is the punishment of a loving Father, who punishes His child in order to perfect His child. It is nothing like the punishment of the damned.

I prefer to describe the concept using a healing model. When we sin:

  • we offend God
  • we often cause harm to others and
  • we harm ourselves as well.
  • When we confess our sins, Christ is faithful to forgive us, but He doesn't stop there, does He?

No, as St. John continues in his epistle, He cleanses us from all unrighteousness. (See I John 1:9) Well, that cleansing process, or healing process can be painful. Sure the forgiveness is immediate, but the restoration, the healing, and so forth, is not always immediate and it can hurt. It's a healing pain more than a punishment pain.

For that reason, we pray for each other when we are alive and for the the Faithful Departed so

"He who began a good work in us, will be faithful to complete it, until the day of Christ Jesus". (Philippians 1:6)

To sum it all up: Salvation is completely a sovereign work of Grace from beginning to end which requires our free will response. It is a process whereby we are perfected by Grace. We become partakers in the Divine Nature. We are transformed into the image and likeness of Christ Himself, by Christ Himself, by the working of the Holy Spirit.

It's not static. Christ died once for our sins. In our history, that happened 2000 years ago, yet, the Bible says Jesus was the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of time. Today we know that He stands before the Father as our High Priest continually making intercession and offering,
to the Father, the one Sacrifice of Calvary.

When we celebrate the Mass, we enter into that once for all Sacrifice. We are mystically present at Calvary, and as a royal priesthood and through the ministry of the ordained priesthood, we unite our priesthood with that of the ordained priesthood, the celebrant representing the High Priest, and offer the one Sacrifice of Calvary for the living and the Faithful Departed.

I hope this helps,

John DiMascio

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