From a reader:
In your opinion, what is the most efficacious means of praying a loved one into Heaven? The person is yet living, but not a family member, and a non-practicing Catholic.
First, it shouldn’t have to be said, but I’ll repeat it here: prayer for the dead is efficacious. God hears our prayers and our prayers are never in vain. We don’t know for sure the eternal destiny of many who die. Nevertheless, our prayers and good works for our deceased loved one – and enemies – are in some way helpful for someone.
Second, it shouldn’t have to be said, but why wait to pray for people until after they die?
Thirdly, we have to make a distinction and also “pray into heaven” those who have indeed died, but are in the purifying state of Purgatory.
The very best means? Have Masses said. Masses can be offered for both the living and the dead.
Some years ago a friend of mine gave me quite a few Mass stipends for Masses for his mother who, though elderly, was still in pretty good health. I said a lot of Masses for her while still living. Happily, she made a good death. He has Masses said for her now as well, good son that he is.
Masses can be said for the intention of both the living and the dead, even for non-Catholics. Some people don’t like the idea of having Masses said for non-Catholics. I respond saying that that just makes us small and stingy. When the Church says to pray for the dead, she doesn’t add, “only if they are enough like us”. So, have Masses said for the living and for the dead.
Not everyone can find a priest who can take Mass stipends and intentions. That is a real problem today. Pray for vocations. More priests, more daily Masses, more intentions, win win win. And, might I add, Save The Liturgy, Save The World. But I digress.
In addition, Holy Church has the authority to grant from the great spiritual treasury of the merits of Our Lord’s Sacrifice and of the lives (and deaths) of the saints, indulgences for the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin. Those who die in God’s friendship, but who have not adequately done penance for the sins they committed and which were forgiven before death, have a period of purification of the last vestiges of attachment to sin and to make up for in a penitential way the injustices they perpetrated to God and neighbor. Only the pure come into God’s presence in heaven, and so, in His love, we have that intermediate state. Through indulgences, we can help the souls in purgatory by taking something of their penance on us through some prayers and works and proper disposition of soul. So, keep track of when the Church grants indulgences. There are usually special opportunities for certain locales as well. Get informed. Also note that, according to the Church’s mind now, we gain indulgences for the dead (which God works out) and for ourselves (in a full or partial way). But to the point of your question and to be clear: indulgences can only be applied to oneself or to a soul in Purgatory, not to another living person. So, pray yourself into heaven and the poor souls into heaven.
Finally, in your own devotions pray for people. You can offer any number of small penances/mortifications and prayers, asking the saints to intercede for anyone. God knows what graces they need. Ask the saints and the Holy Angels to help them. You could add your prayers to what the priest pours into the chalice to be transformed at the consecration. You can add your petitions during your prayers of thanksgiving after a good Holy Communion. Say the Most Holy Rosary, which puts demons to flight in terror and which gives solace to the Poor Souls and garners help for the living.
Any of these sorts of things you can do for yourself, for other living people and for the poor souls.
And keep your own nose clean. Your good example in words and actions might be another way of helping them to heaven.
And go to confession.