There’s always a sense of shock when someone close to us dies. The deeper our love, the more overwhelming our sorrow.
That’s especially so when that death was sudden and unexpected.
Most of us experience that type of loss at some point in our lives, but in recent years more and more are facing the shock, grief, confusion, and searing sense of guilt when that someone takes their own life. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in June 2018 that suicide rates increased in nearly every state in the United States from 1999–2016).
As Catholics we might ask ourselves, “Where are they now? Did they commit such a grievous sin that they’ve begun an eternity outside the presence of God?”
And we may pray:
Oh, dear Lord, how I wish I had done more to help them when they were alive. Is there anything, anything, I can do to help them now?
There was a time, not so long ago in the long history of the Church, when it was commonly accepted that those who committed suicide may well have been responsible for committing a mortal sin with no time to repent.
There was a time, not so long ago in the long history of medical and scientific advancement, that mental illness — including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and others — was vastly misunderstood.
And so many people suffered!
They were men, women, and teens who didn’t understand, were never told by those from whom they sought help, that like a appendicitis or tuberculosis, their mental condition was a medical condition. It was not their fault. It can be treated.
The pain, unimaginable to those of us who have never experienced it, didn’t stop. Or all too frequently returned. Over time they were worn down. Overwhelmed. Without hope. Perhaps some thought, I’m already in hell. What’s the difference?
We don’t know what was going on in the mind of someone, including our loved one, who has taken his or her own life.
And we don’t know, we’ll never know, the mind of God. The God of love. The God of mercy.
The Catechism and suicide
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this regarding suicide:
Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.
We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary [beneficial] repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives. (CCC, 2282–2283)
Those two paragraphs are worth repeating. And remembering.
Prayer for those who commit suicide
You can pray for a loved one who has committed suicide, for those you learn about in the news, and for those whose deaths you’ve never heard of.
You can pray for all the souls — and for particular souls — who have died under any circumstance and because of any causes, and are now preparing to enter heaven.
You can and you should. Our abilities and opportunities to assist the suffering souls in purgatory are God-given gifts. Blessings and graces that God invites us to use again and again.
It might be that we could have done little to help someone who suffered on earth, but we can all now play a key role in helping that soul more swiftly enter the complete and eternal joy of heaven. How? God, being God, makes it easy for us.
Again we return to the Catechism:
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 gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect. …
From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead. (CCC, 1030–1032)
One of the best ways to help a particular soul in purgatory reach heaven is having Masses offered, especially Gregorian Masses. Those are a series of 30 Masses celebrated on 30 consecutive days for the repose of the soul of a departed person.
The name comes from St. Gregory the Great, who was the first to popularize this practice. The Dialogues of St. Gregory tell of the soul of a departed monk who appeared and said that he had been delivered from purgatory upon the completion of 30 Masses.
The Sacred Congregation of Indulgences declared this tradition of more than 1,300 years “a pious and reasonable belief of the faithful on the authority of the Roman Curia.”
It’s important to note the Church does not guarantee that souls are released from purgatory after 30 Masses, but this practice focuses on the power and efficacy of the Mass. (For more information visit the Pious Union of St. Joseph at PUSJ.org or call 517-522-8017).
The Mass, the rosary, the Stations of the Cross, Eucharistic Adoration, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, fasting, making financial donations to help those in need, our own prayers coming directly from our hearts, and other acts can help. There are so many ways and so many opportunities.
There is such power at our fingertips. There is such comfort for the holy souls in purgatory and for those of us who grieve on earth, those desperately wanting to do something.
At CatholicDigest.com: Search for this article: “Suicide: What does the Church teach? Resources to help those in need”
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
National Institute of Mental Health:
Reprinted with permission from Susan Tassone & Catholic Digest.