“If he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.” – 2 Maccabees 12:44-45
Tomorrow is the Feast of All Souls; where we pray for and remember all of the people we have known and loved who have died. We’re also called to pray for and remember those unknown souls with no one to pray for them.
It may sound morbid, but this is one of my favorite feast days. Ever. I love it.
Perhaps it’s because although I am young, many people I have known and loved have died. So I relish the opportunity to pray for and remember those people. I also think this is such a beautiful holy day of the Church; the nearly 1 billion Catholics all over the world are also praying for the dead in their families and all through the Church.
An integral aspect of All Souls Day is praying for the holy souls in Purgatory. This might not seem important, but it is! Our prayers for the souls in Purgatory helps them to reach the point of purity which will allow them to complete their journey to God. Saint Francis DeSales said, “To assist the the souls in Purgatory is to perform the most excellent of the works of mercy, or rather it is to practice in a most sublime manner all the works of mercy together.”
But what exactly is Purgatory, you ask? Good question!
The US Catholic Catechism for Adults says, “The Church gives the name Purgatory to the final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. Those who die in a state of friendship with God but who are not fully purified and perfected are assured of their eternal salvation. However, they must undergo a purification to obtain the perfection of love and holiness needed to enter heaven, where they have a heart that is totally open to God.” (154)
In other words, Purgatory means you’re going to see God someday. But you’re not ready yet. Seeing God is like attending a black-tie cocktail party — that will last for eternity. But, depending on how you’ve lived your life, and how well you’ve listened to God’s invitation to the black-tie cocktail party for eternity, you’ve showed up in something other than black-tie regalia. SO, the bouncers show you into a small room where you’re going to get cleaned up. And it’s going to take a looonnnggg time. And it hurts, because you’re so ready to see God, but you just can’t yet.
I realize this is an imperfect attempt at analogy, and so I offer another which is much better. Our current Pope gives the following example of how we can understand Purgatory:
“Purgatory is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God, and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints.”
And this is why Benedict is the Pope and I am not. Because he has written the above quoted beautiful, inspiring explanation of the purpose of Purgatory…and I compared eternal life to a black-tie cocktail party.
So, you ask, what is the best kind of prayer for those in Purgatory??
To quote from the Catechism again, “The Church assists those in Purgatory through prayer and especially the Eucharist in their final process of purification. Offering Masses for the deceased is a most powerful way of aiding them.” (154)
I very often forget to pray for the holy souls in Purgatory. And by forget to, I mean, I don’t know if I have ever really prayed for them. BUT, since I am most likely going to be spending a LONG time in Purgatory when I die, I’d like to think that if I offer prayers now for those holy souls, maybe someday when I am in Purgatory, some person on earth will offer prayers for me. This line of reasoning is further proof that I will, in fact, be spending a copious amount of time in Purgatory.
If you, dear reader, feel moved to pray for the holy souls in Purgatory, then one of the most important things you can do for them is to attend Mass tomorrow (the feast of All Souls) and offer the Mass for their purification.
And of course, do not be discouraged! Although nearly every person spends time in Purgatory before journeying to heaven, tomorrow’s feast, and the message of remembrance of and prayer for, the dead, is a cause for joy. For we know how the world’s story ends; we’ve read the book.
God Bless and Happy Feast of All Souls!
“Purgatory: perhaps the deepest but also the most blissful kind of suffering. The terrible torture of having to settle now all of the things we have dreaded a whole life long. The doors we have frantically held shut are now torn open. But all the while this knowledge: now for the first time I will be able to do it — that ultimate thing in me, that total thing. Now I can feel my wings growing; now I am fully becoming myself…” – Fr. Hans Urs vonBalthasar