Today we celebrate the Feast of All Souls, and yesterday we celebrated the Feast of All Saints. I remember being really confused by these feast days when I was a kid. Don’t we celebrate the Saints throughout the year? Aren’t the saints souls, too? I went to Mass with my family, but it was pretty fuzzy. As I grew older I came to understand.
Over the course of the year we remember those holy men and women who have been elevated to sainthood through the ministry of the Church. They have a special date set aside for them, and we know them well – St. Patrick, St. Francis, St. Therese, and many more. Each of us has our favorites. All are marked by the date of their death, except St. John the Baptist and the Blessed Mother whose birthdays we celebratre.
We also know that through the course of history there have been many saintly people, and indeed saints, who have lived quiet lives unrecognized by the church. It is those saints we remember on All Saints Day. You may even know some of them. I pray we may one day be counted among them.
On All Souls Day we pray for those who have died and still be await union with God, being “made perfect” (Mt 5:48) in purgatory. You might have heard some Catholics say that after Vatican II the Church no longer believes in Purgatory. Not so! Not so!
The Church is “the whole body of the faithful, including not merely the members of the Church who are alive on earth but those, too, whether in heaven or in purgatory, who form part of the one communion of saints. Considered thus, the Church is divided into the Church Militant, the Church Suffering, and the Church Triumphant.” (Catholic Encyclopedia)
The Catechism teaches us, “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven—through a purification or immediately,—or immediate and everlasting damnation.” (CCC 1022)
The Church Triumphant is the souls in Heaven: those souls who have triumphed over the weakness of the flesh to spend eternity in heaven with God. They had all the same weaknesses and temptations of this earthly life that we have, and they succeeded, either with great love or great suffering, in achieving union with God. This is what we want for ourselves, for our children, and for those we love. Indeed, God wants it for all His children, “…this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it (on) the last day.” (Jn 6:39)
The Church Suffering is the holy souls in Purgatory who await entrance into heaven.
“The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.”
This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. (2Macc 12:46) The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: “Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.” (CCC 1031-1033)
Just as we offer our prayers and sufferings for one another, so we do with merit for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
We are the Church Militant. We are in a battle. It is the greatest battle on earth – the battle for souls. The battle is seen and unseen. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph 6:12) As such, we must be prepared both offensively and defensively.
Defensively, we must protect ourselves:
… stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all (the) flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:13-17)
What can we do offensively? The Church gives us the sacraments and sacramentals as weapons.
- Receive the Eucharist often and frequent Confession in order to grow in virtue and the knowledge of God.
- Know the Word of God by reading and memorizing scripture.
- Wear a brown scapular and use holy water in your home and on yourself and your children.
- Pray. Pray especially the rosary, the prayer of St. Michael, and prayers of spiritual warfare.
- Fast. Fast in small ways or big ways remembering the words of Jesus when his disciples questioned their inability to drive out a demon, “But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.” (Mt 17:15)
I once attended a conference where a woman spoke about her former involvement in the occult and in satanic worship. She said that if there were 100 hosts in front of her and only one was consecrated, she would be able to tell which one. We do not understand the realm in which we battle. It is bigger than us and our human understanding. We therefore must submit to the Truth of the Church, using all the weapons She provides to save souls – our own, the souls of those we love, the souls of those we don’t love, the souls of the those we don’t know. Because God wants all His children with Him for eternity.
Take your role in the Church Militant seriously. It is a grave responsibility. What we do here affects eternity not just for us, but for the whole economy of salvation. On the day of your particular judgment you want to say with St. Paul, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance. (2Tim 4:7-8), and you await those words, “’Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come, share your master’s joy.’” (Mt 25:23)
Holy souls in purgatory, pray for us! Anne
Consider praying the Chaplet of the Holy Wounds for the Holy Souls in purgatory.