All Souls

All Souls, the Day of the Dead, is something Catholicism does rather well. Instead of pushing the dead out of sight or surrounding them with euphemisms, we state the facts baldly and pray for the dead as we pray for ourselves, asking God to remove every trace of sin from those not yet ready for the blessedness of heaven. We believe that our prayers can help those who have died and are undergoing the final purification of purgatory, when the soul is prepared for the vision of God. To pray for the dead is thus a work of charity, a way of helping those who cannot help themselves.

In the monastery, prayer for the dead, like prayer for the absent brethren, comes at the end of every Hour of the Work of God and at the end of every meal. We are constantly reminded of our connection with those who have ‘gone before’. They are as familiar to us in death as they were in life and death itself is much less terrible as a result. I find purgatory a very comforting doctrine. I like the idea of being prepared for the vision of God; I like the idea that the Church will continue to pray for me when I can no longer pray for myself. Best of all, I like the hope of mercy that purgatory proclaims.


15 thoughts on “All Souls”

  1. I have never seen purgatory described this way before. Thank you for this insight and new hope.

    I very much agree with calling the dead, dead, instead of passed away, long sleep et al.

  2. At the end of our Communion service, we pray a prayer of thanksgiving which includes the phrase “our hands were unclean, our hearts were unprepared”: I was very conscious of this as I zipped into church just in time to join the queue for the altar (children’s church overran). Purgatory had always seemed to me to be a cruel, medieval idea; your post, as Jim says, is enlightening, speaking of mercy and hope instead of a brutal cleansing.

  3. I find the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory very difficult to understand or in good conscience to accept. My Catholic upbringing also contained the doctrine of Limbo, where those unbaptized babies would go to be happy, but never to see the face of God.

    Now an Anglican, these doctrines seem to me to speak of an unmerciful God, incapable of compassion or forgiveness. I don’t and can’t believe in that sort of God! The God I know and love is wholly love and is merciful. Our salvation is through faith alone, if we are truly penitent. I’m sure that at the end of life, we cross the boundary of the physical to be with him, with all the Saints in the Kingdom.

    For me, All Souls is the opportunity to celebrate the passing of the departed to be at one with the Communion of Saints and to pray for the living who grieve their departure, in the sure and certain hope and knowledge that they will be reunited in the Kingdom of God.

    Perhaps it’s a lack of faith, but I believe that life as lived is the only preparation we get to meet with God, and if purgatory does exist, it’s here in this life, not after it.

    • Thank you, UK Viewer. I don’t believe in the unmerciful God you describe, either! For me, purgatory is another sign of God’s infinite love and compassion and has nothing to do with punishment. If you read yesterday’s post on All Saints, you’ll see that the two are linked. (Limbo, by the way, has never been a doctrine in the sense of a dogma in which it is necessary to believe for salvation but an ‘explanation’ which has now been rejected by the Church.)

      • Sister, Thank you for your explanation, it is helpful to know that the church has now denied Limbo, but it was Sisters of Mercy in an Orphanage who imparted that to me, as part of the religious education of the 1950’s.

        Even later in the 1970’s, the church was teaching my children that very thing. Understandably, having left the church just around that time, I had not been aware of the change in that area.

        I would say that the Catholic Church of today, is much different from that of my younger days, but I’ve found a home in Anglicanism, which remains part of the Church Universal, albeit with some differences, but is now home. And I thank God for bringing me to where I am today.

        • Thank you. I think your comment reminds us all how important our early years are and how essential it is that a child’s first teachers should impart a sense of God’s love and mercy; but no one can do that if they haven’t experienced it or only half believe it. Something for us all to ponder with regard to ourselves.

    • Hi UKViewer! I too am Anglican, and have never been able to accept the catholic teaching of purgatory. However, if you are interested, I would strongly recommend C S Lewis’ book ‘The Great Divorce’ as a good attempt to explain in some part, through allegory, the final journey of the soul from earth to Heaven.

  4. Thank you so much for this explanation. You might like to know that your blog sometimes reaches beyond those reading it on-screen. I quoted it in a discussion with a friend who is an atheist about to lapse… What you say about purgatory both makes sense and gives hope.

  5. Have to say that like UKviewer above, I am not sure I can understand/accept the concept of purgatory, although I haven’t a problem with praying for those who have died.

    Perhaps it has something to do with time & eternity, the fact that God is outside time and so those who die can go to be with Him even as they are still being prayed for here on earth ????? When on the cross Our Lord told the repentant thief he would be with him that day in Paradise …

    • Thank you, Allie. I’m not quite sure I get the point you are making, but in any case, I don’t want to inflict an essay on you in reply. The Catholic doctrine of purgatory doesn’t negate the idea of some people dying in such a state of grace that no further purification is necessary (e.g. saints, martyrs). But most of us die with at least a few venial sins on our consciences, wrongs we have not repented of. If you have a look at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1030 to 1032) has to say on the subject, it may make more sense even though you may still find the teaching irreconcilable with your own beliefs. There is an online version at

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