All Saints and All Souls
by: Rev. William P. Saunders
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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The church celebrates the solemnity of All Saints Nov. 1 and the feast of All Souls Nov. 2. These special celebrations inspire us to reflect on the very mystery of the church as a communion of saints: the faithful on earth (the church militant) united with the faithful in heaven (the church triumphant) and with the faithful undergoing purification in purgatory (the church suffering). “All of these together form in Christ one family, the Church, to the praise and glory of the Trinity” (“Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” No. 195). This beautiful image of the church as a family praying for one another is best reflected in the holy sacrifice of the Mass and in particular the Eucharistic prayers.
Both celebrations evolved in the life of the church. After the legalization of Christianity (AD 313), a common commemoration of the saints, especially the martyrs who died during the Roman persecutions, appeared in various areas throughout the church, but on different days. When Pope Gregory III (731-741) dedicated an oratory in St. Peter's Basilica in honor of all the saints Nov. 1, this date became the official day for the annual celebration in Rome and by the 10th century throughout the whole church.
Rightfully, the church reveres saints. We as members of the church militant, who are still fighting the good fight and running the race, can look upon them as heroes. These men, women, and children of every age lived in circumstances and faced problems like our own, but kept the faith and strove for holiness. Some of the saints did extraordinary acts, and some lived ordinary lives; however, they were extraordinary in holiness. In a sense, they are like windows of the Lord: Just as a beautiful stained-glass window comes alive as the sun shines through it, analogously, a saint is like a window through which the love of God pours forth and his presence is made known. Keep in mind the saints were not perfect: They were sinners who relied on God’s grace and who never stopped trying. Be mindful of the saints, and especially a patron saint. Have a good devotion to a saint, and call upon that saint’s prayers for help and inspiration
Along with the solemnity of All Saints arose the feast of All Souls, remembering those souls being purified in purgatory. At the time of their death, these souls are not perfectly cleansed of venial sin or have not atoned for past transgressions; thereby, they are temporarily deprived of the beatific vision. The faithful on earth can assist the souls in purgatory in attaining the beatific vision through their prayers, good works and the offering of Mass. Remember such practices for the souls of the dead originated in Old Testament times.
The purification of purgatory is about God’s love. Pope John Paul II, in “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” taught, “God makes man pass through such an interior purgatory … in order to bring him into union with himself. Here we do not find ourselves before a mere tribunal. We present ourselves before the power of love itself. Before all else, it is Love that judges. God, who is Love, judges through love. It is love that demands purification, before man can be made ready for that union with God which is his ultimate vocation and destiny.” Moreover, Pope Benedict XVI taught in “Spes Salvi” that purgatory offers hope, because ultimately the person perfectly cleansed is united with the Lord in heaven.
In the earliest days of the church, the names of the faithful departed were posted in church, so that the community would pray for them. Eventually, a particular day was set in various areas. Mindful of All Saints Day, St. Odilo, the abbot of Cluny (d. 1048), decreed that all of the Cluniac monasteries would offer special prayers and sing the office of the dead for the souls in purgatory Nov. 2. This commemoration was soon adopted as the feast of All Souls for the whole church.
Therefore, on the feast of All Souls, we ought to pray for the all of the souls in purgatory, including our own deceased loved ones. A plenary indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to anyone both for devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the departed between Nov. 1 and 8, and for visiting a church and reciting the Our Father and the Creed on All Souls Day (“Enchiridion Indulgentiarum,” No. 29). Parents should also nurture this practice in their children, for one day, we will all need their prayers.