All Souls Day 2013

Had he lived, today would have been my father’s 100th birthday. It was always a joke between us that I would never forget to pray for him in years to come because on this day above all others, the Church prays in a special way for all the faithful departed. It is our ‘Day of the Dead’ — and that’s not a morbid or sad thought. It is a cause for joy.

In several earlier posts, I sketched the Catholic doctrine of purgatory and prayer for the dead (see, for example, this about All Souls or this about prayer for the dead, or use the search facility in the sidebar). It seems to me that the connection between the Church Militant (i.e. those of us on earth), the Church Suffering (i.e. the souls undergoing the final purification of purgatory) and the Church Triumphant (those who enjoy already the vision of God in heaven) is worth pondering for many reasons, not least because it reminds us of our essential dignity as human beings. We are not mere clumps of cells, with no meaning before we are born and none after we are dead. There is a continuity in being that nothing can destroy. We are, as Hopkins says, ‘immortal diamond’.

Like many, I have been haunted by the thought of those people from Niger whose bodies were found in the Sahara. Each was buried according to Muslim rites where he/she lay. In death they were accorded more respect than many of them probably experienced in life. But somehow that burial, that reverent consigning their dead and decomposing bodies to the sandy soil, is a sign of hope, whether we be Christians, Muslims or whatever. It is a mark of humanity, the triumph of simple decency over everything callous and inhumane.

Love does not end with death, nor does our fellowship with one another. Prayer and reverence is an expression of that. As a Catholic, I believe that my prayer can help those who have died, so I pray for those people of Niger as I pray for my father and all the departed. Requiescant in pace. Amen.