All Souls Day: Pray for Them. They Will Return the Favor
Whereas All Saints Day commemorates the Church Triumphant or the general population of saints in heaven who are not otherwise celebrated in the liturgical calendar, All Souls Day commemorates the Church Suffering, or all the souls who have left this life and are still suffering in Purgatory. It is a day particularly dedicated to praying for our deceased loved ones and for offering alms, penance, and sacrifices on their behalf. It has a long history rooted in Sacred Scripture, the writings of the Church Fathers, and in the teaching of the Magisterium.
But wait a minute… Once we’re dead we’re either in Heaven or Hell… There’s no changing that, so why bother to pray for the dead?
In 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, St. Paul speaks of being “saved, but only as through fire” and that this purification would be as a “loss.” This is one of the passages Catholics often use to explain the Doctrine of purgatory. In this passage, Paul speaks of the deceased as being guaranteed salvation, but in need of a bit of purification prior to entering heaven. It doesn’t appear to be a pleasant experience, but the end result will be purified and beautiful indeed!
But that’s the dead person’s problem. What does that have to do with me?
Further, the practice of praying and giving alms for the deceased is mentioned in Sacred Scripture in 2 Maccabees 12:42-46. In this instance, Judas Maccabeus mourns the fall of men in battle who died while wearing pagan amulets. While they lost their lives fighting for God’s Kingdom, they were clearly still dabbling in things they’d rather their mothers not hear about. Judas and his soldiers pray for those men and further take up a collection of alms to offer a sacrifice for the fallen at the temple in Jerusalem. Thus, prayer, alms and sacrifice on behalf of the dead have deep roots in our faith. We might look at this in a similar fashion to parents baptizing an infant. While the infant cannot have faith for themselves, their parent’s faith suffices. In this case, the sinner cannot do penance or give alms, but we can do so on their behalf, and in return they pray for us as well. You can even go so far as to do a plenary indulgence and offer it on their behalf.
While the doctrine of Purgatory is rarely spoken of in many parts of the Church, it holds a long legacy in the writings of the Father’s of the Church as well as many saints. For example, St. Padre Pio recounted being visited by the soul of a poor friar who had neglected his duties in life and now was forced to do them before he could enter Heaven. The goodly priest offered a Mass for the deceased friar and later received assurance of his release from Purgatory. Which brings us to a final act we can offer for the suffering souls. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on someone’s behalf has long been understood as an efficacious offering against their time in purgatory. In a day and age when many souls do not even receive a funeral Mass, the Masses on All Souls are offered for those who might otherwise never have one said on their behalf.
So, go to Mass today, pray for your departed loved ones. Maybe even take the time to walk the Stations of the Cross as an offer of extra graces. If your loved ones don’t need it, God won’t waste it and he’ll let his Mother gift it to someone else. You can be assured they will return the favor when it’s your turn…