I did not grow up practicing the tradition of praying for the dead and gaining indulgences, and, until this year, my children were not doing both of these things either.
That has changed.
Last year, we began consciously praying for the dead with a simple dice activity, but we were not praying consciously to gain plenary indulgences.
Then, last month, someone in our local Catholic home educating group asked if any other families gather as a group at a cemetery in our area to pray for the dead. That inquiry brought the practice of gaining indulgences for the dearly departed back to the forefront of my mind.
Since Luke has received Reconciliation and First Communion, I wondered if he might be interested in joining me at a cemetery to pray. So, I explained the practice to him and he decided he wanted to begin it.
Nina heard us talking and began to cry.
I thought Nina's tears fell because we were talking about the deceased, a topic that she has been ultra-sensitive to ever since my niece passed away ast spring. However, the questions Nina asked through her tears made me realize that she was crying for a different reason: She wants to help the dead and thought that, since she has not yet received her first Reconciliation and Communion, she could not join us.
Of course, I quickly allayed Nina's concerns. I told her that she was most welcome to come with us and that I would ask a priest for answers to her questions since I did not know them myself. Later, I did just that and - wow!- did Nina's smile beam when she received confirmation that a child's prayers always are heard and, even without having received Reconciliation and Communion, her prayers could help the dearly departed.
Now, Luke would have been happy enough to go pray for souls at the cemetery close to our home. However, Nina had her heart set on visiting her cousin's grave on All Soul's Day.
This desire surprised me. For, as I have already mentioned, Nina has had a difficult time dealing with the loss of her cousin. In fact, more often than not, when my niece's name is mentioned, tears brim in Nina's eyes, and, sometimes, when we pass cemeteries, Nina begins to outwardly mourn her cousin.
Thus, I was surprised to note that when Nina talked about going to pray for her cousin at the cemetery during the first week of November, her eyes remained dry. In fact, her countenance was an odd mixture of eagerness and peace. It made me think back to a series of drawings that Nina created early on in the process of mourning her cousin.
Nina's great desire is that her cousin be at peace in Heaven.
My great desire is that all souls find full peace and happiness in Heaven and that while my children and I are still on earth, we find experience pieces of peace and joy here. So, I spoke to my husband about Nina's wish and Daddy's response was to promise his little girl that no matter what, we would make time to go pray as a family at my niece's graveside.
So it was that we found ourselves driving through an early wet and windy snowfall to pray to gain indulgences for souls in purgatory for the first time in all of our lives this past All Soul's Day.
Our brave, determined little girl was 100% intent on praying for the soul of her cousin and nothing was going to stop her - certainly not snow!
With a full heart and not a single tear, Nina led us to her cousin's grave site and asked for a picture Then, she joined Daddy, Luke and me in a series of prayers and offered her own personal prayers, too.
(Jack did not join us at the grave side because he'd fallen asleep in the car. He woke, though, before we pulled out of the cemetery and joined us in some additional prayers form inside our vehicle.)
Luke later told me that he had also offered personal prayers, ones for all the people in the cemetery and in purgatory who may have been forgotten by others. Sometimes that boy amazes me..
And so a new prayer tradition began for our family.
Won't you join us in praying for the souls of the dearly departed?
"Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen."
If you leave a link to a faith formation idea or a reflection relevant to raising young children in the faith in a comment here or on our Training Happy Hearts Facebook page, I will pin it on the Training Happy Hearts: A Call to Faith Formation in Young Children Pinterest board.