Sunday, October 17, 2010

Praying for the Dead

It's that time of year again! The veil between the worlds grows thin, and the spirits of those who have gone before are closer than ever. You find many different spiritual paths taking the opportunity to acknowledge and remember our ancestors and friends on the other side - whether it be a NeoPagan Samhain circle, a Catholic All Souls Day mass, a Vodou Fete Ghede, or even a secular nod to those traditions through the holiday of Halloween.

In the Latin American countries you find communities everywhere gearing up for Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, which actually takes place over several days - Oct. 31, Nov. 1, and Nov. 2. In some places in Mexico, such as Oaxaca, the Dia de los Muertos celebrations are the largest and most important religious event of the year - even bigger than Christmas or Easter! It's a time when the dead are honored and remembered and invited to visit and enjoy the company of their living friends and family once again.

Being half-Mexican we have adopted the celebration of Dia de los Muertos in our home, and I've been busy constructing our ofrenda with pictures with our loved ones on the other side. It's a refreshingly upbeat and colorful observance that pokes fun at the fear death often holds, recognizes that death in no way is the end of life, and serves to strengthen the goodwill and ties to ones ancestral spirits.

But while I anxiously await October 31st to really light up the ofrenda and invite my ancestors in for a few days for a visit and to partake of some of their favorite foods and pleasures from life, I like to take the opportunity of the thinning veil to make a nightly prayer observance for the dead. Now I acknowledge my ancestors daily in prayer, and clean and work their altar at least once a week - but offering prayers for other disincarnate souls is a lovely practice, and you can find many lovely prayers to aid you in this practice. I wanted to share with you some of these, so that if you feel so inspired you can also take up the practice of praying for the dead.

Bone and Blue Rosary

I like using a rosary of real bone skulls for my prayers, but even having a unique set of prayer beads for the purpose can really aid in the focus. You can find some stunning momento mori rosaries, chaplets, and prayer beads from Etsy artisans such as Artista Muerte (who made the gorgeous rosary pictured above), Elegant Medical, Forest Glen, and others. Use search terms like "bone rosary", "skull rosary", and "rosary of the dead" to find interesting items. Of course you are not required to have special prayer beads or any prayer beads at all - you can just pray from the heart.

Here are some of the lovely prayers that I offer. I usually will start with one of these prayers and then move into praying in my own words. I originally did not resonate with the idea of a Purgatory which is present in so many of these prayers, but I came to personally understand it as the state of being for soul's who have not perfected yet, and is subject to at least one further incarnation before being able to become One with the Divine (at that would be most of us, I think). And of course, lost souls who are bound to earth through some tragedy or another can of course use our compassion and our prayers for them to be relieved of their burdens so that they may move on. Spiritualist prayers will often include phrases asking for blessings and elevation for the souls who have passed, and I see this as another form of that same practice. So for me, praying for the souls in Purgatory, is praying for blessing for and for the elevation of the souls in between lives who still have work to do in their evolution. I realize this is not the orthodox Catholic doctrine on the matter, but it is how I connected with the practice in my own path.

A similar but simplified practice involves a specific prayer on each day of the week for the dead. Each short prayer is followed by an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a De Profundis.


O Lord God Almighty, I pray Thee, by the Precious Blood which Thy Divine Son Jesus shed in the garden, deliver the Souls in Purgatory, and especially that Soul amongst them all which is most destitute of spiritual aid; and vouchsafe to bring it to Thy glory, there to praise and bless Thee forever. Amen.

O Lord God Almighty, I pray Thee, by the Precious Blood which Thy Divine Son Jesus shed in the garden, deliver the Souls in Purgatory, and especially that Soul amongst them all which is most destitute of spiritual aid; and vouchsafe to bring it to Thy glory, there to praise and bless Thee forever. Amen.

O Lord God Almighty, I pray Thee, by the Precious Blood which Thy Divine Son Jesus shed in His bitter crowning with thorns, deliver the Souls in Purgatory, and especially that one amongst them all which would be the last to depart out of those pains, that it may not tarry so long a time before it comes to praise Thee in Thy glory, and bless Thee forever. Amen.

O Lord God Almighty, I pray Thee, by the Precious Blood which Thy Divine Son Jesus shed in the streets of Jerusalem, when He carried the Cross upon His sacred shoulders, deliver the Souls in Purgatory, and especially that Soul which is richest in merits before Thee that so, in that throne of glory which awaits it, it may magnify Thee and bless Thee forever. Amen.

O Lord God Almighty, I pray Thee, by the Precious Body and Blood which Thy Divine Son Jesus, which He gave with His own hands upon the eve of His Passion to His beloved Apostles to be their meat and drink, and which He left to His whole Church to be a perpetual sacrifice and the life-giving food of His own faithful people, deliver the Souls in Purgatory, and especially that one which was most devoted to this mystery of infinite love, that it may with the same Thy Divine Son, and with Thy Holy Spirit, ever praise Thee for Thy love therein in eternal glory. Amen.

O Lord God Almighty, I pray Thee, by the Precious Blood which Thy Divine Son Jesus shed on this day upon the wood of the Cross, especially from His most sacred hands and feet, deliver the Souls in Purgatory and in particular that Soul for which I am most bound to pray; that no neglect of mine may hinder it from praising Thee in Thy glory and blessing Thee forever. Amen.

O Lord God Almighty, I pray Thee, by the Precious Blood which gushed forth from the side of Thy Divine Son Jesus in the sight of, and to the extreme pain of His Most Holy Mother, deliver the Souls in Purgatory, and especially that one amongst them all which was the most devoted to her; that it may soon attain unto Thy glory, there to praise Thee in her, and her in Thee, world without end. Amen.

There are plenty of other prayers for the dead that are available. I will provide some links that you can browse if you so wish. There are some moving and powerful ones out there, so it's really just a matter of finding which ones resonate with you and will be pleasing for you to incorporate into your own practice.

I particularly like and use is the Short Prayer for the Faithful Departed:

O most compassionate Jesus, have mercy upon the Souls, detained in Purgatory, for whose redemption Thou didst take upon Thee our nature and endure a most bitter death. Mercifully hear their sighs, look with pity on the tears, which they now shed before Thee, and by virtue of Thy Passion, release them from the pains due unto their sins. O most merciful Jesus, let Thy Precious Blood reach down into Purgatory and refresh and revive the Captive Souls which suffer there. Stretch forth unto them Thy strong right hand, and bring them forth into the place of refreshment, light and peace. Amen.

Blessed Souls! We have prayed for you! We entreat you, who are so dear to God, and so certain of never losing Him, to pray for us miserable sinners that are in danger of being damned and of losing God forever.

There is also the Novena for the Relief of the Souls in Purgatory. It is sometimes performed beginning on the day of the passing of someone close to you. When someone you love passes, it brings the shadow of death clearly into our vision, and this can be an opportunity to undertake spiritual practice to help us grieve and move forward, while helping to obtain spiritual benefits for not only the loved one who is now gone, but all the dead who dwell in various planes of existence in between incarnations.

Because this practice involves several daily prayers and meditations, I will simply link to it below so as to conserve space here.

The Memorial Prayer for the Suffering of Souls in Purgatory I really like because you connect with so many different souls from all walks of life and pray for their wellbeing.

Almighty God, Father of Goodness and love,
have mercy on the Poor Suffering Souls,
and grant Thine aid:

To my dear parents and ancestors;
(Jesus, Mary, Joseph! My Jesus have Mercy.)
To my brothers and sisters and other near relatives;
(Jesus, Mary, Joseph! My Jesus have Mercy.)
To my benefactors, spiritual and temporal;
To my former friends and subjects;
To all for whom love or duty bids me pray;
To those who have suffered disadvantage or harm through me;
To those who have offended me;
To all those who are especially beloved by Thee;
To those whose release is at hand;
To those who desire most to be united with Thee;
To those who endure the greatest suffering;
To those whose release is most remote;
To those who are least remembered;
To those who are most deserving on account of their services to the Church;
To the rich, who now are the most destitute;
To the mighty, who now are as lowly servants;
To the blind, who now see their folly;
To the frivolous, who spent their time in idleness;
To the poor, who did not seek the treasures of Heaven;
To the tepid, who devoted little time to prayer;
To the indolent, who were negligent in performing good works;
To those of little faith, who neglected the frequent reception of the Sacraments;
To the habitual sinners, who owe their salvation to a miracle of grace;
To parents who failed to watch over their children;
To superiors who were not solicitous for the salvation of those entrusted to them;
To the souls of those who strove for hardly anything but riches and pleasures;
To the worldly-minded, who failed to use their wealth and talents in the service of God;
To those who witnessed the death of others, but would not think of their own;
To those who did not provide for the great journey beyond, and the days of tribulation;
To those whose judgment is so severe because of the great things entrusted to them;
To the popes, rulers, kings and princes;
To the bishops and their counselors;
To my teachers and spiritual advisors;
To the deceased priests of this diocese;
To all the priests and religious of the whole Catholic Church;
To the defenders of the Holy Faith;
To those who died on the battlefield;
To those who are buried in the sea;
To those who died of stroke or heart attack;
To those who died without the last rites of the Church;
To those who shall die within the next twenty-four hours;
To my own poor soul when I shall have to appear before Thy judgment seat;

O Lord, grant eternal rest to all the souls of the faithful departed,
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.

There are also some other litanies for the dead as well that, if you find this form of prayer moving, may wish to peruse.

I hope this has inspired you to consider praying for the dead as part of your spiritual practice. I have found praying daily for the welfare of my ancestors has deeply enriched my path and opened many doors for me. This has in turn heightened my awareness and compassion for other souls, and initiated my desire to pray for blessings for other spirits as well. Of course I've always felt a connection with the dead that many others simply do not, and found comfort and beauty in funerary art. I guess that is why the joyful play that the Latin American countries display towards death have always appealed to me. Perhaps praying for the dead is not for everyone all the time, however during this time of year when the veil is thin, I feel it's more fitting for more people. And so it is in the spirit of the season that I offer this information to you!

Blessings to you and yours, both here and in the hereafter!


  1. Ah, Devi what a lovely post. I love the set up--it is absolutely beautiful.

    I was planning on doing a bit about the topic myself, but I think i'll take it a different direction ;-).

    Thank you for sharing with us!

  2. Thank you so much for all the links; the rosaries are absolutely beautiful and the prayers inspiring, striking very close to home with the ancestor work I want to start.

  3. @ConjureMan Ali - oh that's not my ofrenda! I wish mine could look so amazingly authentic. I don't like posting pictures of my altars if they are currently working, so I probably won't post a picture of mine until well after All Souls...if at all. :)

    @Pallas - Well, I'll be posting again probably next week about starting an ancestral practice. It can be so confusing with all the contradictory info out there, and getting started is actually much simpler than you may think. :)

  4. Devi that rosary is STUNNING.

    Is that from one of the vendors you mentioned above?

  5. Yes, that rosary is from Artista Muerte. You can find them at:

  6. What a lovely post Devi! I'm definitely moved to incorporate praying on behalf of all departed souls into my own practice. Much thanks for all the wonderful prayers and links you've included.