“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, 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
All Souls’ Day is celebrated at the end of the liturgical year when the Church examines the fruits of the redemption. The first fruits, or the holy Saints in Heaven, were honored yesterday. But today, on this feast of the Holy Souls, we focus our prayers on the souls of those who have gone through their earthly battle and are now confirmed in a state of grace, but who for the time being are now in the cleansing fires of Purgatory….a place defined as ‘holy hell’ or ‘sad heaven’.
The Holy Mother Church, whose members rejoiced yesterday for all of the Church’s children who have entered into the glory of heaven, today, now pray for all of those who have entered into their eternal sleep, not yet purified enough for the beatific vision of the Lord. These souls are in the purifying state of purgatory, awaiting the day when they will be made pure and be able to join the company of the saints in heaven. At no place in the liturgy of the Church, is there a more striking example of the mysterious union between the Church triumphant, the Church militant and the Church suffering; than on this feast of the holy souls.
On this feast, the action that is required of us…the Church militant... is our steadfast prayers and alms…or offerings…. Not only are we called to remember the suffering souls…but also, to have Masses said for them… this act for us, remains an upmost act of charity. In calendar of days within the Church, there is never a more clearer example of the union that exists between all the bodies of the Church, than in the feasts we celebrate on these two days.
The need or rather, the duty, of the faithful to pray for the departed souls has been acknowledged by the Church since Her very beginnings. We find that it is referenced in the Scriptures of the Old Testament…(2nd Maccabees 12:46) “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins”. Not only is it customary to pray for the souls in private, but also publicly, especially in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. These Masses help the holy souls, both because the Mass is so powerful in itself and because the faithful have coupled their sacrifice (this offering) with the Sublime Sacrifice.
The customary dates for these Masses for the holy souls, are on the day of the person’s death and then again, on the day of the burial, which is known as the funeral Mass. In the traditional ways of the Church, many people would have Masses said on the seventh and the thirtieth day after the death of their loved one, it was called the Month’s Mind Mass. Another important date to have a Mass said is on the anniversary of their death. In the Church today, the only Mass that we have an obligation to have said, is the funeral Mass, but as Catholics who want what is best for our deceased, it is still a good and holy practice to offer alms and have Masses said for our departed at other times as well.
As faithful Catholics, we must remember that the holy souls in purgatory know how long they must remain there, but they can do nothing to shorten this stay. They are at the mercy of others…they no longer can plead for themselves…they must rely on us…the Church militant and on our prayers for them. I once read that the holy souls in purgatory are like the poor man at the football stadium of a sold out game- without a ticket. He sees the crowds going into the stadium and he hears the cheers, but because the tickets are gone, he cannot buy one on his own, therefore he is unable to join them until someone who has a ticket gives him one….he is at the mercy of others.…Just as the holy souls in purgatory are dependent on the mercy of others…and their prayers and offerings to God, for them, to get them to heaven.
A good prayer to use when praying for the dead is one suggested by Cardinal Newman in his hymn for the dead:
Help, Lord, the souls which Thou hast made, The souls to Thee so dear, In prison for the debt unpaid Of sins committed here.- Amen.
Many Christians who have fallen away from the teachings of the One True Church, like to pretend that praying for the dead is a “Catholic superstition,” and that somehow praying for the dead goes against the teachings of the Bible, but we find that these sacrifices are indeed Bible based, and taken right out of Sacred Scripture… from the same book of Macchabees (12:43) where Judas Macchabeus had his soldiers send drachmas to Jerusalem to offer up a sacrifice for the soldiers who had fallen in battle. So as we remember our departed loved ones, let us travel to their grave site and pray that God’s mercy will be upon them and that He will in His goodness, release their souls to heaven.
Just as a side note, if you are not near the cemetery of your loved ones…or perhaps your loved one’s body isn’t resting in a grave as of yet, you can still pray for the souls of all the faithful departed…God will still hear your prayers. And during this month of November, when you travel to a cemetery to pray for the dead, it is twofold…you can gain yourself an indulgence as well. So go to Mass, then visit the cemetery and make it a happy feast for all the holy souls in purgatory.
Listen kindly to our prayers, O Lord, and, as our faith in your Son, raised from the dead, is deepened, so may our due hope of resurrection for your departed servants also find new strength. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.