“I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth. And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see my God. Whom I myself shall see, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”[i]
Perhaps a thousand or more years before the birth of Christ, the biblical figure Job spoke these words in the desert to the east of the Promised Land—perhaps in what we today call eastern Syria or Iraq. It is a marvelous insight into the nature of the human condition—an insight that helps us to make some sense of the reality that our time here on earth usually does not much exceed the “seventy years ... or eighty if we are strong” spoken of by the Psalmist.[ii]
Job was certainly not a Christian, for Christ was many years in the future. It is very probable that he was not even a Jew. But nonetheless God gave this revelation to him: that a Redeemer would come from the Living God, and that, somehow, fallen mankind would be raised back up to its original state of innocence and immortality. And in this state man would see God face to face—that he would exist, not only in the memories of those who knew him, but in physical and spiritual reality. Literally, his eyes would behold God, and all of those who had gone before him.
This idea of a resurrection on the Last Day is a central theme of our Catholic Faith. It occurs in various places throughout the Sacred Scriptures.
Later on in the Old Testament we read about the Machabees, the staunch defenders of the Law of Moses, who fought off many invaders of Israel just after the breakup of the kingdom of Alexander the Great—the Machabees who had lost many men in defense of their holy religion—who sent: "to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. For if they had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead."[iii]
The Machabees understood something that Job may have missed. They: "considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins."[iv]
It was not enough, merely, to rise again on the Last Day—it was necessary to stand before the throne of God in the state of grace. It was necessary that the punishment for those sins which had not been in this life be expiated in the next. God had revealed to the Machabees that the living who remain have a duty to pray and offer sacrifice for the dead who have gone before.
By the time of Christ, the knowledge of the individual resurrection had become common knowledge. We just read the words of Martha to Jesus: “I know that my brother will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”[v] Jesus, of course, identified Himself personally with this resurrection:
We would be seriously mistaken if we were to think that death is the final end of the human person. Remember, man is made up of two parts; the body which is not permanent, which grows old and suffers and dies; and the soul which is permanent, that lives forever like the angels. As we will hear today in the Preface of this funeral Mass:
St. Paul tells us that “death is swallowed up in victory ... for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible.” We know that on the last day, Almighty God will raise us from the dead and restore our souls to a glorified body; one no longer subject to sickness and death. It matters not that we died young or old; that in this life we may have lost a limb. It matters not that our bones are in a fancy box, or our ashes scattered to the four winds. In any case, God will raise us up, whole once again.
So, remembering the words of the Machabees, we pray for the dead that God will swiftly cleanse them of those small sins and imperfections that might keep them temporarily from enjoying the glory of heaven. That, by His mercy, He might quickly forgive the punishment that is due to their sins in Justice. “It is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead.”
But, we also pray for the dead, that we might receive something for ourselves; that by reflecting on the realities of life and death, of heaven and hell, we might be more motivated to keep His Commandments and receive His Sacraments in order to ensure our own eternal salvation. These are things not just to talk about, for they are realities; we might even say the only realities, for nothing else matters if we lose our souls.
Finally, we pray for the dead, so that they will pray for us. The souls in Purgatory need our prayers, for which they are eternally grateful. Remember that they are God's saints, soon to share the glory of heaven with Him; powerful intercessors on our behalf. Let us not forget those who have gone before us, lest they forget to pray for us.
Saint Paul, in his beautiful discourse on Charity tells us that in the end, “prophecies will disappear, and tongues will cease, and knowledge will be destroyed ... but there will abide Faith, Hope, and Charity. The first and the last of these virtues, Faith ad Charity, give rise to the second virtue, Hope. Christians will continue to believe what God has revealed; we will continue to love God and to love one another for God’s sake.
Because we believe what God has revealed, and because we love one another, there is cause for hope. Because we pray for Denise and for all of the souls who have gone before us, we have “the hope of a blessed resurrection.” We have every reason to believe that the loving God will hear our prayers for her—just as some day He will hear her prayers for us.
“I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the last day I
shall rise out of the earth ...