Go to Mass for the sake of others, not just me. To pray for the living and the dead (a work of mercy).
In continuing my column series of “Why do I have to go to Mass, when I can just pray on my own?”: A sixth reason is that we do not go to Mass only for ourselves. As I discussed in my column last week, our prayer at Mass involves extending the power of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross into our lives and the world around us, including all those that we pray for!
We all know people who do not go to Mass regularly, whether by choice or by circumstances outside their control. So when we go to Mass, we can (and should) offer up prayers for them at Mass. There is great power in that prayer because then your own prayers are bolstered up and strengthened by the prayers of the whole universal Church – including the prayers and intercession of Saints and Angels whom we are most closely in communion with during the prayer of the Mass! So we don’t only go to Mass for ourselves but we go to Mass for all those who are NOT there!
In Eucharist Prayer I (there are four main Eucharistic Prayers), we pray: “Remember, Lord…all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them, for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being and paying their homage to you, the eternal God, living and true.”
Or as we say in Eucharistic Prayer III (probably the most used Eucharistic Prayer on Sundays): “May this Sacrifice of our reconciliation, we pray, O Lord, advance the peace and salvation of all the world…Listen graciously to the prayers of this family, whom you have summoned before you: in your compassion, O merciful Father, gather to yourself all your children scattered throughout the world.”
We not only pray for the living, but we also pray for the dead. As Catholics, we believe that if there are things that we still cling to or are not fully purified of or healed from in this life then we will have to be purified of it in the next. We call this Purgatory: the final cleansing/purifying/healing process before entering into the fullness of the joy and peace of heaven. But we believe that we can help people through this process of Purgatory through our prayer, especially by extending to them the power of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross, which we tap into through the prayer of the Mass. This is why we offer Masses for people, most commonly for those who have died (though Masses can be offered also for those who are still living as well). If someone has already passed from Purgatory into heaven, then the grace of the Mass offered to them will be offered to another soul in need of prayers in Purgatory (God’s grace is never “wasted”!)
And we also pray for all the dead in the Eucharistic Prayer. As it says in Eucharistic Prayer III: “ To our departed brothers and sisters and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to your kingdom.”
Thus our going to Mass for the sake of others is also a work of mercy, as one of the seven spiritual works of mercy is “to pray for the living and the dead.”