Roman Catholic Prayers for the Dead

Headstone inscriptions were not part of the Imperial War Graves Commission’s original plans but came about through an awareness of the comfort they would give the Roman Catholic community.

There is some difference of opinion as to whether leave should be given to relatives to add anything further … (but) it would give satisfaction in many individual instances to be allowed to add an appropriate text or prayer or words of dedication; and notably it is certain that in the case of members of the Roman Catholic communion there would be a strong desire to place a formula beneath the name.

How the Cemeteries Abroad Will be Designed
Sir Frederick Kenyon
HMSO 1918

The ‘formulas’ Kenyon refers to are brief prayers, in this case for the dead. Their recital is intended to speed the passage of the dead through purgatory and to lessen the suffering of their soul. These prayers would be especially important in the case of men killed in battle who would not have received the Last Rites before they died.

Some of the formulas found on War Grave Commission headstones include: Of your charity pray for his soul; O sacred heart of Jesus have mercy on his soul; On his soul sweet Jesus have mercy, may he rest in peace; Immaculate heart of Mary intercede for him, Jesus have mercy on him.

Many families used the same formulas but expressed them in Latin, at that time the language used in Roman Catholic services.

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