I don’t watch basketball. At all.
But, I know who Kobe Bryant was.
Tragically, on January 26, 2020, along with his daughter and 7 other souls, he died in a helicopter crash in Southern California. I was at a birthday party when the news flashed up on my iPhone. I didn’t know him, of course. But, I immediately said a prayer.
That’s what we do, as Catholics.
We pray for the living and the dead. We comfort the afflicted, including those who mourn, as best we can through our kindness, support, and prayer. But, one of our seven spiritual works of mercy is also intentional prayer for the dead.
This sets Catholics apart from many of our Christian brothers and sisters.
Our Catechism teaches, “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” (CCC 1030).
This is our teaching of Purgatory. It is not just catechetical tradition of the Catholic Church. It is common sense. It is fitting.
For most of us, at the time of our death, we are still attached or attracted to sin. We are often still in the throes of a battle. We may be weary, worn, and “working out [our] salvation” as St. Paul observes. That is, while we may be destined for the sweet fragrance of eternal reward, we find ourselves meeting eternity still smelling of the world.
C.S. Lewis, non-Catholic Christian and author, once wrote “Our souls demand purgatory, don’t they?”
They do. Only a brief Google search will provide enough information to suggest that, perhaps, Kobe Bryant’s soul was not so different from ours. A Catholic. A son. A husband. A father. A sinner.
Reflecting on his perhaps his darkest hour, Kobe Bryant said in an interview in 2015, “The one thing that really helped me during that process – I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic – was talking to a priest.”
We talk to priests for lots of reasons, one of which is to receive the actual and sanctifying graces of the sacrament of Confession. Perhaps this is the kind of conversation Kobe Bryant had with his priest.
This is why we pray for our beloved dead. We are a communion of saints. We are a family of believers. We depend on the prayers of others who are on the same journey toward heaven. We believe that the prayers of holy men and women are powerful. And, we know that even at the hour of our death, our souls demand mercy and prayer.
The Catholic Church offers us beautiful prayers to assist us in praying for those who have gone before us. We pray for them. And we ask their prayers in return.
Because that’s what family does.
Prayer at the time of death:
Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father,
who created you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God,
who suffered for you,
in the name of the Holy Spirit,
who was poured out upon you,
go forth, faithful Christian.
May you live in peace this day,
may your home be with God in Zion,
with Mary, the Virgin Mother of God,
with Joseph, and all the Angels and Saints.
Prayer for the dead:
V. Eternal rest grant unto him (her), O Lord.
R. And let perpetual light shine upon him (her).
V. May he (she) rest in peace.
V. May his (her) soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Prayer for the dead at their grave:
Lord Jesus Christ,
by your own three days in the tomb,
you hallowed the graves of all who believe in you
and so made the grave a sign of hope
that promises resurrection
even as it claims our mortal bodies.
Grant that our brother/sister, N., may sleep here in peace
until you awaken him/her to glory,
for you are the resurrection and the life.
Then he/she will see you face to face
and in your light will see light
and know the splendor of God,
for you live and reign forever and ever.
These prayers and others are offered here.
Kobe Bryant, pray for us.***
***After original publication of this piece, we were posed with the question if we as Catholics are allowed to ask the souls in Purgatory to pray for us.
Great question! And, it’s one I had not even considered was controversial as it has always been a part of my personal prayer practice. From my research, I have surmised that there is some room for liberty on the answer.
We cannot know apart from the Church’s canonization if a soul is definitively in heaven, thus in our official liturgies we only ask for the intercession of those canonized saints. We can reasonably presume, however, that there are those whom the Church has not canonized who are also enjoying eternity in heaven. Thus, if we can only ask for the prayers of those souls in heaven, we ask conditionally for the prayers of those we have known and loved in this world, who we believe to have died in faith. If they are in Purgatory, unable to hear us or pray for us, then we depend upon the mercy of God for our ignorance and continue to pray for mercy for them as they await heaven.
But, it seems this matter is not settled among theologians and there is no explicit teaching from the Church at this time.
Here is good explanation from a Catholic Answers Apologist in favor of petitioning souls in Purgatory for their prayers.
Here is a good explanation from Ascension Press addressing the controversy.
Here is the catechetical teaching that I believe best addresses the issue.
Here is the podcast on which we discuss this question.
In this and all matters, I humbly submit to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.