Yesterday, in my Church History post on All Hallows’ Eve/Halloween and All Saints Day, I indicated I would set forth the importance of the next day attached to the three important days, November 2nd, All Souls’ Day.
“On this day is observed the commemoration of the faithful departed, in which our common and pious Mother the Church, immediately after having endeavored to celebrate by worthy praise all her children who already rejoice in heaven (October 31st – All Hallows’ Eve/Halloween, preparation for All Saints’ Day and November 1st, All Saints Day) strives to aid by her powerful intercession with Christ, her Lord and Spouse, all those who still groan in purgatory, so that they may join as soon as possible the inhabitants of the heavenly city.” Roman Martyrology
The Church, after celebrating All Hallows’ Eve/Halloween, October 31st, the preparation for All Saints Day, and All Saints Day, November 1st, today prays for all those who, in the purifying suffering of purgatory await the day when they will be joined to the company of saints in the Church Triumphant. A union exists between the Church Triumphant, those saints in heaven, the Church Militant, those of us on earth and the Church Suffering, those souls experiencing the cleansing of purgatory so that they will be ready to go into heaven. These branches, the Church Triumphant, the Church Militant and the Church Suffering compose the Mystical Body of Christ.
We celebrate the Mass for All Souls’ Day in commemoration of all of the Faithful Departed.
“The writer of 2 Maccabees praises the offering of prayers and sacrifices for the dead (see 12:38-46). Why do the departed need such assistance from us? So that their sins “might be fully blotted out” (12:42).
The final destiny of the redeemed is to live in heaven eternally with God, where “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2). Since God is holy, to be like Him we, too, must be holy (see Mt. 5:48). Without that holiness, “no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14), for “nothing unclean will enter” the glory of heaven” (Rv 21:27).
Nevertheless, few people, even among devout Christians, are fully cleansed of sin and its effects when they die. And God will not reject any penitent sinner, even one who has been notoriously wicked yet repents at the last moment before death (see Lk 23:39-43). How, then, can we enter heaven immediately at death if we aren’t yet perfected in holiness?
St. John tells us that everyone who hopes to be holy as God is holy, and to see Him face-to-face, “makes himself pure, as he is pure” (1 Jn 3:3). That process of purification begins in this life as we submit in faith to the dealings of God that help to make us whole. “Purgatory” is simply the name given to that process of purification as it continues after death. (Like “the Holy Trinity”, “purgatory” is a term not occurring in Scripture; but the reality it refers to is implied by scriptural truths.)
God doesn’t purify us instantly in this life by waving a magic wand, bypassing the cooperation of our free will. So we shouldn’t expect Him to do so at our death, either. And since His work to heal us of the effects of sin is usually painful now – just as surgery for our bodily health is painful – the purgatorial process will likely be painful as well.
The traditional image of cleansing purgatorial fire comes from such Biblical passages as 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, which speaks of those who “will be saved, but through fire” (3:15). The Bible also speaks of God’s holiness in this regard as “a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). Yet just as the physician’s cauterizing fire burns in order to heal, so does any pain we might experience in purgatory. In the end it is a work of God’s mercy.”
Why do we pray for the Dead?
“One day as the Jewish general Judas Maccabeus and his men were burying comrades fallen in battle, they discovered that the slain soldiers had been secretly practicing idolatry (see 2 Mc 12:39-40). “Turning to supplication”, Scripture says, “they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out” (12:42). Then Judas took up a collection for an expiatory sacrifice for them in the temple.” In doing this, he acted in a very excellent and noble way ….Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin” (12:43, 46).
Why did the ancient Jews pray for the dead? For the same reason they prayed for the living: It was an act of fraternal charity. They recognized that the departed needed their help to be cleansed of their sins. And they were confident that such spiritual works would benefit those who had died, just as it would have benefited someone who was still living.
The first Christians, who were Jews, maintained this “excellent and noble” practice. For example, St. Paul prayed for a friend named Onesiphorus, who was apparently deceased (see 2 Tm 1:16-18). . .
Not surprisingly, then, many inscriptions on ancient Christian tombs ask the living to intercede for those buried within. Clearly, from earliest times, the Church has offered prayers and sacrifices for the faithful departed – especially the most valuable of all, Holy Mass.
Some Christians object to praying for the dead. For those who are in heaven, they insist, our prayers are unnecessary. And for those who are in hell, our prayers are useless.
But there are faulty assumptions here. First, most people who go to heaven still require purification after they die before they are ready to live with God forever. Our prayers can help in that process. Second, we don’t know for sure who is in hell, so we should still pray in hope for even the worst of sinners.
In short, charity demands that we should pray for the dead. And humility demands that we should ask others to pray for us when our day comes to depart this life.”
Let us pray today for all of the Souls of the Faithful Departed with earnest faith, hope and love. In fact, in the Universal Catholic Church, we pray especially for all the Souls of the Faithful Departed for the entire month of November.
“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.
O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
O God, the creator and redeemer of all the faithful, grant to the souls of your departed servants the remission of all their sins that through our prayers they may obtain that pardon which they have always desired. Amen.”
Sources: The New Catholic Answer Bible;