Yesterday, we celebrated the solemnity of “All Saints” day; today, we are celebrating the “Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed,” this feast also being known as “All Souls’ Day.”
Since both of these feasts concern the departed, some of you may ask yourselves, “What is the difference between these two feasts?” On All Saints’ Day, we commemorate those who are in heaven, those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ. While the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed we remember those who are still in Purgatory, those who die in God’s grace and friendship that need to undergo purification after death so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned (Cf. Council of Florence (1439): DS 1304; Council of Trent (1563): DS 1820; (1547): 1580; see also Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336): DS 1000). The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire (Cf. 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pt 1:7) (cf. CCC 1031).
Why do we need to commemorate all the faithful departed especially our loved ones?
First, because we believe in the communion of saints. Otherwise stated, we believe in the communion of the Church of heaven and earth. Our catechism teaches us that there are three states of the Church. Those who are in heaven belong to the Triumphant Church; those who are in Purgatory belong to the Suffering Church; those who are still on earth belong to the Pilgrim or Militant Church.
The Church in her Cathechism (CCC 954) teaches: “When the Lord come in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is’” (LG 49; cf Mt 25:31; 1 Cor 15:26-27; Council of Florence (1439): DS 1305).
All of us, however, in varying degrees and in different ways share in the same charity towards God and his neighbors, and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God. All indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together (LG 49; cf. Eph 4:16). Since we are community of saints in Christ who “died for all” what each one does or suffers in and for Christ bears fruit for all.
Hence, as community of saints of Jesus let us help one another and strive together for the sanctification of men and glorification of God that will lead us all to heaven, “the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (CCC 1024). This is always what we pray for, what we strive for, what we hope for.
Second, those souls in Purgatory have been in great need of us. They need badly our prayers. “In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and ‘because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead and that they may be loosed from their sins’ she offer her suffrages for them” (LG 50; cf. 2 Macc 12:45). Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (CCC 958).
The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences and works of penance such as prayer, fasting and almsgiving 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 (St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in 1 Cor. 41, 5: PG 61, 361; cf. Job 1:5).
Third, we remember them because we thank them for their goodness, love, good works, good example and beautiful memories. As Massieu once said, “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” Hence, let always remember them with our gratitude, appreciation, love and, above all, with our prayers, sacrifices and offerings.
In this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, let us pause for a moment and remember all our loved ones and all the faithful departed with love. Then let us unite all our prayers, offering and sacrifices for the salvation of the elect who are still in Purgatory, that God the Father of mercies and consolation, will grant them eternal repose and happiness in heaven.