ALL SOULS DAY – 2014
Praying for our deceased relatives and friends is what our feast of All Souls is about today. All Souls’ Day is a day specially set apart that we may remember and pray for our dear ones who have gone to their eternal reward and who are currently in a state of ongoing purification.
From yesterday each one of us has today moved one day closer to death. It’s our common destiny. Today’s Mass puts that reality in front of us in a special way even though in every celebrated Mass we always pray for those who have, along with all of the saints, gone ahead of us into the next life.
Many people don’t like to hear about death and what might come afterwards. We know we can’t avoid it, but many people believe that if they don’t think about it, it won’t happen, at least not for a long time.
Each and every Mass puts us in a holy communion with the communion of saints. This is so because Christ, in His Mystical Body the Church, continues to join us into Himself so that He can take us back to our Father in heaven. People of all religions have believed in the immortality of the soul, and have prayed for the dead.
The Jews, for example, believed that there was a place of temporary bondage from which the souls of the dead would receive their final release. The Jewish catechism Talmud states that prayers for the dead will help to bring greater rewards and blessings to them. Prayer for the souls of the departed is retained by Orthodox Jews even today.
Jesus and the apostles shared this belief and passed it on to the early Church. “Remember us who have gone before you, in your prayers,” is a petition often found inscribed on the walls of the Roman catacombs (Lumen Gentium-50). If we talk about the Theological reason, according to the book of Revelation: 21:27: “nothing unclean shall enter heaven.”
Holy Scripture (Prov.24:16) also teaches that even “the just sin seven times a day.” Since it would be contrary to the mercy of God to punish such souls with venial sins in Hell, they are seen as entering a place or state of purification, called Purgatory, which combines God’s justice with His mercy. This teaching is also contained in the doctrine of the Communion of Saints.
Our prayers for the dead began with the first Christians who, from the very beginning, prayed for those early martyrs. They did so in order to give thanks to Almighty God for the witness of those martyrs along with their courage, and above all their faith. They did so because they recognized the unbreakable bond that joins us all together in Christ, the living and the dead alike.
Death cannot tear asunder the family of Christ; death cannot tear asunder the communion that we share in Christ with each other whether we are here on earth or have gone ahead into the next life. Thirteen hundred years ago a famous English Benedictine priest gave us some beautiful thoughts about this. He wrote:
“We seem to give them back to you, O God, who gave them first to us. Yet as you did not lose them in giving, so we do not lose them by their return. Not as the world gives do you give. What you give, you do not take away. For what is yours is also ours. We are yours and life is eternal. And love is immortal, and death is only a horizon, and a horizon is but the limit of our sight.
We can also give some Biblical evidence regarding today’s feast:
II Mac.12:46 is the main Biblical text incorporating the Jewish belief in the necessity of prayer and sacrifice for the dead. The passage II Mac.12:39-46 describes how Judas, the military commander, “took up a collection from all his men, totaling about four pounds of silver and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering.” The narrator continues, “If he had not believed that the dead would be raised, it would have been foolish and useless to pray for them.”
St. Paul seems to have shared this traditional Jewish belief. At the death of his supporter Onesiphorus, he prayed: “May the Lord grant him mercy on that Day” 2Tim.1:18.
The Church also teaches something about this. The Church’s official teaching on Purgatory is plain and simple. There is a place or state of purification called Purgatory, where souls undergoing purification can be helped by the prayers of the faithful (Council of Trent). Some modern theologians suggest that the fire of Purgatory is an intense, transforming encounter with Jesus Christ and his fire of love.
They also speak of Purgatory as an “instant” purification immediately after death, varying in intensity from soul to soul, depending on the state of each individual. Now the question is, “How do we help the “holy souls”?
Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of All Saints, remembering those heroes and heroines who lived such lives of faith, hope, and love here on earth that we honor them as saints who live now in heaven. But what of those who are not yet there? What of those who have yet to achieve heaven’s goal?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church #1032 recommends prayer for the dead in conjunction with the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The CCC also encourages “almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.”
All these prayerful acts are to be conducted as matters of faith, and not as something magical. The greatest act is to offer Mass for the dead, because in this One Sacrifice, the merits of our Lord Jesus are applied to the dead. Hence, this reconciling offering of the Lord is the greatest and most perfect prayer, which we can offer for the dead in their state of purification.
When I was young, the devotion to the Holy Souls was very popular. People offered Masses for the Holy Souls. On All Souls Day each Priest offered three Masses, people came in great numbers for the Masses and they visited the Church and cemetery often during the day to gain indulgences by their prayers. Even today relatives have Mass offered for their loved ones on their anniversary, birthday, Christmas and Easter.
Sadly, however, prayer for the Holy Souls is not as popular as in times past. If I were to ask what is the best thing you can do for a loved one who has died what would you say? Some would say a funeral to talk about them? Some would say a nice grave and headstone? Some would say a tree, a plant or a beautiful flower? Have a wonderful reception?
Yes all those things are nice. But the best gift is prayer because that is the only thing that can help them on their journey to the Lord. I have put at the end of my will, “Please don’t spend time talking about me, and spend time praying for me.” For it is a holy and wholesome thing to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sin.
Let us not forget to pray for our dear departed, have Masses offered for them, visit their graves, and make daily sacrifices for them. Amen.