Essays/Articles and Scriptural Studies

Missale Romanum 1970  

For this week's meditation on the Collects of the Roman Missal, we consider the Prayer over the Offerings for All Souls’ Day in the MR’70. The following is the ICEL translation of this prayer as found in the third typical edition of the Roman Missal (2010):

Almighty and merciful God, by means of these sacrificial offerings wash away, we pray, in the Blood of Christ, the sins of Your departed servants, for you purify unceasingly by Your merciful forgiveness those You once cleansed in the waters of Baptism. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

To someone unfamiliar with the Catholic faith, the grounds for offering prayer and sacrifice on behalf of the dead may seem unclear, or even superstitious. Even many Catholics see funeral rites far more in terms of our memories of the deceased and how to celebrate their life, and far less about offering sacrifice for their purification.

In fact, Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium - as well as the experience of many saints and ordinary people - all demonstrate overwhelmingly that what a deceased person who has died in the state of grace wants/needs most is the purifying effects of the Blood of Christ through the Mass, so that they may enter into the Beatific Vision fully purified! The Church teaches that Mass may be offered for the souls of the faithful departed in order to apply to them the super-abundant merits of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is the reality to which our above-quoted prayer testifies. Let us examine the undergirding theology of this teaching.  

Firstly, we must grasp rightly why saved souls need purification. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1459, we hear that “One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm” caused by sin, because it even “injures and weakens the sinner himself”...“absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused” (i.e., the “temporal consequences”). Further on, Catechism no. 1472 elaborates on this idea: “every sin, even venial [that is, less serious sin] entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth or after death in the state called Purgatory”...and this need for purification “follow[s] from the very nature of sin,” and is certainly not “a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without.

Thus, while forgiveness restores us to grace (or strengthens it, if we hadn’t lost it), penance is our cooperation with God’s grace in re-cultivating and beautifying the disordered garden of our soul, and this takes work! (cf. Catechism no. 1459). The splendorous result is our becoming perfected in charity, which is how the Church defines holiness (cf. Catechism no. 2013). If this process of purification has not reached its fullness in this life (which, for many of us, it may not), then we will need further purification beyond the grave…

Since the faithful departed are incapable of offering penance after death, Christ Himself in the Mass (in union with the prayers of His Body the Church), applies His own merits to these sanctified, albeit imperfectly purified, souls destined to share His glory. It is entirely gratuitous, and has the effect of expanding their capacity for the Beatific Vision (cf. Catechism nos. 1030-32). Thus, in view of the teaching of Catechism no. 1366, offering the Mass for the faithful departed is not principally commemorative for our sake, but “propitiatory” for their sake, because the “sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice.” As we pray in the Litany of the Precious Blood, “Blood of Christ, freeing souls from Purgatory, save us!”



“It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” (II Machabees 12:46) 


(David Allen)

Mr. David Allen, M.T.S., is the lay Pastoral Associate for our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.


About Our Parish

Mary Immaculate of Lourdes is Newton and Needham Massachusetts's oldest Roman Catholic Parish. Founded as Saint Mary's Parish in 1870 it was renamed "Mary Immaculate of Lourdes" when the new Church was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, 1910. In addition to being a regular territorial parish of the Archdiocese of Boston it is also a "Mission Parish" since 2007 with a special apostolate for the Traditional Latin Mass (1962 Missal).

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