October 30, 2011
￼I’ve been “on the road” a bit over the last 2 weeks, so today I’m taking a break from my discussion of the new translation of the Roman Missal, and running a column that is essentially a repeat of my column from the same week last year. Even so, it’s as timely today as it was then. We’ll go back to ￼the translation next week.
￼￼Of course tomorrow (October 31) is Halloween. As big a deal as this has become in certain circles in the last few years, for Catholics its main importance should be to point to the two very special days￼that follow it: November 1, All Saint’s Day, and November 2, All Souls’ Day.
￼￼These days are particularly important because they remind us that the Church of Jesus Christ is more than just those folks we see when we come to Mass, and extends well beyond the 2 billion plus Christians we can count on Earth. Because billions of Christians have lived and died before us, ￼and many of those are in Heaven, or on their way there.
￼￼This is what the Church means when it speaks of the “Communion of Saints”—here the word “saint” being used as it is most commonly used in Scripture, to refer to all Christians. So that we who worship Christ on Earth are one with those who worship Christ in Heaven and in Purgatory. The Church therefore refers to three states, or parts, of the Church: “The Pilgrim Church” (“The Church Militant”) i.e., all Christians on Earth; “The Church in Glory” (“The Church Triumphant”), all those in Heaven; and “The Church Being Purified” (“The Church Suffering”), all the souls in Purgatory.
￼￼All Saints’ Day reminds us of our unity with the Church in Heaven. Throughout the year we celebrate the feasts of particular persons whom, because of their manifestly holy and heroic lives on Earth, the Church officially recognize as now living in Heaven, i.e. the people we normally refer to as “saints” (or “canonized saints”). But on this ALL Saints’ Day we remember not only those “official” saints, but also ALL the other countless numbers of souls who have gone to Heaven. For example, many of our deceased mothers and fathers are in Heaven, and so many little children who have gone before us. This is their feast day! So we honor them, and in honoring them we honor God Himself, who has given them a share of His glory. And we pray to them, asking the whole multitude in Heaven to ￼assist us on our way to join them.
￼All Souls’ Day remembers our unity with the Church in Purgatory. Unfortunately, nowadays even the idea of Purgatory isn’t very well received; it often triggers reactions of disbelief or even ridicule— even among Catholics. Yet this doctrine goes back to the Old Testament, as 2 Maccabees 12:39-46 makes very clear. Some see Purgatory as a place of horrible torture—sort of a mini-Hell—and the thought that their deceased loved ones could be there strikes them as disrespectful: they want to ￼think of them as in Heaven.
￼But remember, St. John tells us in Rev. 21:27 that “nothing imperfect shall enter into” Heaven. The thing is, who do you know that is perfect? Almost all of us have at least some venial sin we cling to, or have some inordinate attachment to earthly things. Does that mean that all of us imperfect people will not enter Heaven, i.e., and so go to Hell? Not at all. Because of God’s great love for us, He will not let this happen. So in His mercy the Lord takes all of us who die in a state imperfection (assuming that before death we have properly repented of any mortal—“deadly”—sins) and He perfects, or purifies, us. Another word for purification is “purgation,” so this time/place/state of ￼purification is called “Purgatory.”
￼It is true that Purgatory is a place of some suffering, hence it is referred to as the “Church Suffering.” Perhaps this suffering is best understood in the light of the suffering that comes with any change: when we try to get into better physical shape, it hurts. When we try to learn a new subject it’s difficult, “painful” (“no pain, no gain”). But the pain of becoming physically stronger or mentally smarter is not something we should shun—in fact, the pain becomes, in some ways, a source of joy, ￼as we begin to recognize it as a sign of change to a better state.
￼￼So is it a surprise that the change from imperfect to perfect will be painful? And while those in Purgatory do suffer during their purification, is it a surprise that St. Catherine of Genoa, after receiving a vision of Purgatory from Our Lord, wrote: “I believe no happiness can be …compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise.” The souls in Purgatory suffer, but they rejoice as it brings them closer and closer to Heaven. And while on Earth we rejoice in our hope for Heaven, in Purgatory the souls rejoice because they definitely know they are going ￼there.
￼￼Even so, we must pray for the Souls in Purgatory—because they do suffer. And just as we try to help those we love on Earth by praying for them, we don’t stop loving someone when they die, so we should continue to pray for them to help them on their way to perfection. Even if we know that they were very holy on Earth, we still owe them whatever help, in prayer, we can give them in death.
￼￼So, contrary to what many people think nowadays, praying for the dead is not an act of disrespect, but of love. It does not imply that they are not good enough for Heaven, but presumes that they were so good that they are now assured of their Heavenly reward, after God has perfected ￼them.
￼￼Who cares about Halloween? What great days lie ahead on All Saints’ and All Souls’! In the love of Christ, and with faith and hope in His promises of Heaven, let us pray to the saints in glory for their ￼help, and lend our help to suffering souls by praying for them.
￼￼Et, oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles