All Souls 2012

Catholicism can be an uncomfortable religion to live by, but it is a wonderful religion in which to die. As death draws closer we are surrounded by prayer, our bodies are anointed and we receive the Viaticum to help us on our way. At the moment of death a singularly beautiful prayer is prayed, and after death our bodies are accorded the simple rituals I described in an earlier post. But that is not the end of of the matter. The Church goes on praying for us, perseveringly. November, in particular, is a month when we pray for the dead with special earnestness. Today, on the feast of All Souls, everyone will join in praying for all the faithful departed — not just the people known to us, but those unknown, those who have no-one else to pray for them. The feast of All Souls thus unites the living and the dead.

Last year I summed it up by saying

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.

Inevitably, there was a clash with some of my Protestant friends who reject the idea of purgatory. I very soon realised that few of my objectors knew what the Catholic Church teaches about purgatory (as distinct from what they thought the Church teaches) so in later posts I went into it in some detail. Underlying such misunderstandings is a much bigger question which no amount of explanation will ever really help. I would have liked to have taken my friends on a journey to a cemetery in southern Europe on the eve of All Saints, or transported them through time to the tombs of the early Christians. Possibly our very correct English sensibilities would be a little shocked but perhaps the sense of ease with death would take away some of the terror of death and dying that afflicts many people. All Souls is a reminder of the importance of death, and our part in assuring the entry into blessedness of all our fellow Christians.

Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

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8 thoughts on “All Souls 2012

  1. Thank you for your helpful post and links.

    All Souls is a day of prayer and remembrance that is something that perhaps we Anglicans don’t do as often, since we pray for them as All Saints to a greater degree.

    But having been brought up Catholic I was taught about Purgatory, and while I accept it as a tenet of Catholic teaching, and your explanations, I still find it difficult to comprehend that God would allow souls to languish instead of bringing them into heaven . Haven’t they suffered enough already? Perhaps there is a gap in my view of God, as I’m sure that I must have imperfect views on much of God, because I just can’t know the whole as it’s beyond my feeble human comprehension.

    But, I join with you in praying for the souls of the departed because I believe that their lives and deaths are part of our story and that they hopefully will be part of the communion of Saints.

    • Thank you, Ernie. If you refresh your memory of Catholic teaching on purgatory by reading nos 1030 to 1032 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, you’ll see it says very clearly that souls in purgatory ‘are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven’. There is no mention of languishing or suffering. It is, rather, a joyful period of purification and preparation, an eager looking forward to what is to come. As such, I’m rather looking forward to it! In the monastery we pray for the dead at the end of every Office and after every meal. I’m not sure heaven will be truly heaven if anyone is ‘left outside’ so I’m glad we pray for everyone.

  2. Praying for those who have no one else to pray for them.

    Yesterday, I thought of going in our little cemetery to visit those who no one will visit (I haven’t yet). But praying for those who have no one fills me with joy somehow. Thank you.

  3. I always say a quick prayer whenever I walk by a cemetery. My wife asked me why and I replied that I hope that when I am lying six feet under, some kind stranger will say a prayer for me. That prayer might just be the one that gets me out of purgatory! 🙂

  4. I once heard someone (a Benedictine monk actually!) speak about Purgatory thus: many of the problems we might have in “getting our heads round it” are to do with our being creatures living in time. We cannot help thinking in terms of days, years, centuries or more “in Purgatory”. His suggestion was that we consider the experience of Purgatory as the instant (and even that’s a misleading time-word) realisation at our death of how much we have always been loved, and what our response on earth has (or has not) been. Who would not want the prayers of compassionate friends at that awe-ful realisation?

  5. odd as it sounds ,in verse two of Danny Boy, ” please kneel and say an Ave there for me.For I shall hear thou soft your tread above and I shall sleep in peace until you come to me”
    Words of consolation for many. RIP

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