Next Sunday would have been my Nana’s 96th birthday. When she passed away in January, I went to my parish office for Mass cards and selected this coming Sunday as one of the days to have Mass offered for the repose of her soul.
Perhaps I should explain a bit for those of you who might no understand what I’m talking about. Catholics do not believe that there are three choices of where to go when a person diesk; on the contrary, there are only two: Heaven or Hell. But we also believe that to approach the Throne of God, you must be completely purified from any attachment to sin. Very few people are truly detached from all sin when they die, and some of us have not repented of every sin we’ve committed in this life. After death, if you aren’t in a perfect state of grace, there is a purgatorial time to allow for a final cleansing from sin. It’s a way to be completely clean for Christ, like cleaning up for your wedding.
The day I married Nathan, I wasn’t going to just show up in shorts and a T-shirt, unshowered! As much as he loved me, that would have been disrespectful to my fiancé. Instead, I showered, got my hair and nails done, and carefully put on my makeup and my wedding dress. Only when I was completely finished preparing myself for my wedding did I get into the limo and go to the church. In the same way, Purgatory is a time of cleansing for souls who are not perfectly contrite for their sins. It’s a place to prepare ourselves for our great wedding: the wedding feast of the Lamb. The people in Purgatory are saved, and they are surely on the way to Heaven. We, the Church on earth, offer prayers for their souls the way we pray for our family on earth. We ask God to be merciful and to bring them to the beatific vision of Heaven. When a person dies, offering the Mass for their soul is a great gift, since Jesus is the perfect sacrifice. And so having Masses said for the repose of a person’s soul is the best thing we can do for someone who has died. We cannot know God’s mind, and we cannot judge the state of someone’s soul, so our prayers to God (Who is outside of time) are in the hope that He will (to quote the Eucahristic prayer) welcome them into the light of His face.
So for The Lovely Nana’s birthday, I have asked that our main Sunday Mass is offered for the repose of her soul.
Our parish has a computer system that assigns people to various ministries based on their schedule requests. Nathan and I are both Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHCs), and we both wound up scheduled to serve at the Mass for Nana. My daughters sing in the choir, and they’ve told me that one of the pre-Mass meditation songs that day is “I Can Only Imagine” (one of my favorite prasie and worship songs!) and that another hymn being sung is “Seinn Aileluia,” a Gaelic song whose title is translated “Sing Alleluia.” (The version our choir is singing is an English translation except for the refrain, which is left in Gaelic.) It’s quite beautiful. And it also happens to be quite perfect for The Lovely Nana, whose father came to America from Ireland and was so proud of her Irish heritage. Even when her memories were slipping away from her, she could remember that she’d been to Ireland to find where her Da had been born and to meet her cousins. It was one of the last memories she lost before she died.
I can’t help but believe that God arranged all of this for me. It’s such a beautiful gift, and I’m not sure I’ll make it out of Mass without sobbing uncontrolably. (Perhaps I ought to warn my priest before Mass!) God loves to lavish us with little gifts that bring great joy to our hearts. This is one of those kinds of meaningful presents that He, my Heavenly Father, has given to me. Unasked for, unexpected, but definitely not unappreciated. God is good all the time!
Please join me this Sunday in praying for the repose of The Lovely Nana’s soul.