VATICAN CITY – While Christians should hope that their deceased loved ones are in heaven, they must pray for them in case they are in purgatory, said Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze.
Vatican Radio asked the cardinal, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, about a frequent comment at funerals that the deceased is now with God in heaven.
“The people present at a funeral have no authority to canonize anyone,” the cardinal said in the interview broadcast Nov. 2, the feast of All Souls.
“They can hope that the person has arrived in the house of the Father in heaven, but it is just as possible that the person is in purgatory,” he said.
“Only God knows if that person is already in heaven; we cannot know and, therefore, we pray for that person because he could be in purgatory. However, if the person already is in heaven, God certainly will use all of those prayers for another person,” Cardinal Arinze said.
The feast of All Souls differs from the Nov. 1 feast of All Saints precisely because it offers prayers for the eternal peace and heavenly rest of “our brothers and sisters who died in a state of grace, but not totally purified,” he said.
“They certainly will arrive in heaven,” the cardinal said, “but for the moment they suffer in purgatory.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church said, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”
The church teaches that prayer, particularly the Mass, and sacrifices may be offered on behalf of the souls in purgatory in the belief that believers can help one another, before and after death, he said.
“Our faith tells us this: The souls of the deceased pray for and help us. Exactly how they do this, we do not know,” Cardinal Arinze said. “But we do know that in Christ the savior there is a communion between those who have arrived in heaven, those in purgatory and those still on earth.”