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Detail from Saint Michael's, Chicago, IL

Detail from Saint Michael’s, Chicago, IL

The Requiem Mass is one of the most startling and pristine acts of Christian worship, with every action and word of the sacred liturgy ordered toward two distinct ends. First, we are summoned to pray for those who have died and who are now enduring the purification necessary to enter the eternal presence of their Divine Master. Secondly, we are called to a stark reminder of our own mortality; of the need to convert our hearts in order not to forfeit that opportunity ourselves; in order not to distance ourselves, through selfish desire, from the mercy of God not simply in this life but for all eternity.

Though distinct, these two ends are united in the worship of the Mass. Here we do not simply ask Almighty God to pour out his abundant mercy on the souls of the faithful departed; we beg and plead for this mercy through the very offering of Christ himself in the sacrifice of the cross. In the Hebrew scriptures the second book of Maccabees recalls the tradition of the Jews offering sacrifice for the sins of those who had died in war (2 Mac. 12: 43-46). And in the New Testament the epistle to the Hebrews tells us that the sacrifice of Christ is the fulfillment of all sacrifice (Heb. 10). Thus we here present to God the Father the perfect prayer of God the Son, in God the Holy Spirit, by entering into the mystical worship of the Most Holy Trinity in our offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice. We do not seek to offer a new sacrifice today, but rather to join ourselves and our prayers for the faithful departed to the one, full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world because, as the Church reminds us, those who have died ‘are aided by the suffrages of the faithful and principally by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar’ (Conc. Tri. Sess. XXV, ‘De Purgatorio’).

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, then, the preeminent locus for our prayer for the dead. It is the place where our petitions are most fervently voiced and most efficaciously heard. In this Eucharistic oblation we join ourselves to the eternal worship of the Most Blessed and Undivided Trinity, and to the offering of Christ the Great High Priest to God the Father, animated by the Holy Spirit. And in doing so we become intimately one with the communion of the saints, who are eternally united to this mystery, as so also to those who await the full splendour of the beatific vision.

Conscious of that striking reality, and orienting ourselves with a new ardour toward this end, let us now come to join our sacrifice of prayer and praise with the eternal worship of heaven—with the offering of God the Son to the God the Father in the unity of God the Holy Spirit. Let us become more and more closely united to that supreme and cumulative sacrifice of Christ, re-presented for us in the Eucharistic offering. And by so doing, let us plead our ‘most merciful Father’ to show his mercy to our brothers and sisters ‘who have gone before us sealed with the seal of faith, and who sleep the sleep of peace’, that they may be freed from every bond of sin, and so come to that place ‘where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting’.