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All Souls and Purgatory

Commemoration - 2 November, though the whole of the month of November is dedicated to prayer for the Holy Souls.

3 2us by Father Francis Selman      
"Although God’s justice requires that we set right our wrong doing by penance, we can help the souls in purgatory by our prayers, which appeal to the mercy of God. The greatest prayer, of course, is the Mass itself. This is also the most effective prayer for the dead,  because the Mass is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross which takes away the sins of the world. Thus the faithful have Masses said for the dead. It is also a matter of charity to pray for the dead, whether for those who are dear to us in this world or for forgotten souls who have no-one to pray for them. Finally, I spoke above of those who ‘deserve’ heaven. Properly aware, none of us deserve heaven, as the saints were only too well aware. We only reach heaven by the mercy of God."

3 2us by Father Marcus Holden       
"The Lord desires us to share eternal life with Him but this comes about through grace and it is not cheap grace. It was brought at a price, the Precious Blood of the Lamb and we have to co-operate with that grace in life."

Sunday Evangelium on the Holy Souls & Purgatory by Father Marcus Holden       
"The Lord in His mercy has given us, those who die in friendship with him, the possibility of purification, of perfecting, after death. And this is good news. It is God's gift to save His imperfect friends… The souls of purgatory are aided by us as instruments, they are held by us in the providence of God. And it is comforting that we are not completely separated from our loved ones once they pass through the vale of death; we can still relate to them, we can still have a hand in their journey. God, in His providence, wants us to look after one another, not just in this world but forever. So the saints pray for us and help us, and we can help the holy souls. The Church extends of course from earth to heaven and includes purgatory. The most powerful thing we can do for the holy souls is to offer Mass for them. In the Mass, heaven and earth are united and the sacrifice which saves us is made really present."

Catechesis by Benedict XVI on Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed
2 November 2011 - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints, today the Church invites us to commemorate all the faithful departed, to turn our eyes to the many faces who have gone before us and who have ended their earthly journey. So at today’s audience, I would like to offer a few simple thoughts on the reality of death, which for us Christians is illuminated by the Resurrection of Christ, and so as to renew our faith in eternal life.

As I already said at the Angelus yesterday, during these days we go to the cemetery to pray for the loved ones who have left us, as it were paying a visit to show them, once more, our love, to feel them still close, remembering also an article of the Creed: in the communion of saints there is a close bond between us who are still walking here upon the earth and those many brothers and sisters who have already entered eternity.

Man has always cared for the dead and sought to give them a sort of second life through attention, care and affection. In a way, we want to preserve their experience of life; and, paradoxically, by looking at their graves, before which countless memories return, we discover how they lived, what they loved, what they feared, what they hoped for and what they hated. They are almost a mirror of their world.

Why is this so? Because, despite the fact that death is an almost forbidden subject in our society and that there is a continuous attempt to banish the thought of it from our minds, death touches each of us, it touches mankind of every age and every place. And before this mystery we all, even unconsciously, search for something to give us hope, a sign that might bring us consolation, open up some horizon, offer us a future once more. The road to death, in reality, is a way of hope and it passes through our cemeteries, just as can be read on the tombstones, and fulfills a journey marked by the hope of eternity.

Yet, we wonder, why do we feel fear before death? Why has humanity, for the most part, never resigned itself to the belief that beyond life there is simply nothing? I would say that there are multiple answers: we are afraid of death because we are afraid of that nothingness, of leaving this world for something we don’t know, something unknown to us. And, then, there is a sense of rejection in us because we cannot accept that all that is beautiful and great, realized during a lifetime, should be suddenly erased, should fall into the abyss of nothingness. Above all, we feel that love calls and asks for eternity and it is impossible to accept that it is destroyed by death in an instant.

Furthermore, we fear in the face of death because, when we find ourselves approaching the end of our lives, there is a perception that our actions will be judged, the way in which we have lived our lives, above all, those moments of darkness which we often skillfully remove or try to remove from our conscience. I would say that precisely the question of judgment often underlies man of all time’s concern for the dead, the attention paid to the people who were important to him and are no longer with him on the journey through earthly life. In a certain sense the gestures of affection and love which surround the deceased are a way to protect him in the conviction that they will have an effect on the judgment. This we can gather from the majority of cultures that characterize the history of man.

Today the world has become, at least in appearance, much more rational, or rather, there is a more widespread tendency to think that every reality ought to be tackled with the criteria of experimental science, and that the great questions about death ought to be answered not so much with faith as with empirical, provable knowledge. It is not sufficiently taken into account, however, that precisely in this way one is doomed to fall into forms of spiritism, in an attempt to have some kind of contact with the world beyond, almost imagining it to be a reality that, ultimately, is a copy of the present one.

Dear friends, the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of all the faithful departed tells us that only those who can recognize a great hope in death, can live a life based on hope. If we reduce man exclusively to his horizontal dimension, to that which can be perceived empirically, life itself loses its profound meaning. Man needs eternity for every other hope is too brief, too limited for him. Man can be explained only if there is a Love which overcomes every isolation, even that of death, in a totality which also transcends time and space. Man can be explained, he finds his deepest meaning, only if there is God. And we know that God left his distance for us and made himself close. He entered into our life and tells us: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25-26).

Let us think for a moment of the scene on Calvary and listen again to Jesus’ words from the height of the Cross, addressed to the criminal crucified on his right: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). We think of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, when, after traveling a stretch of the way with the Risen Jesus, they recognize him and set out immediately for Jerusalem to proclaim the Resurrection of the Lord (cf Lk 24:13-35). The Master’s words come back to our minds with renewed clarity: “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (Jn 14:1-2). God is truly demonstrated, he became accessible, for he so loved the world “that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16), and in the supreme act of love on the Cross, immersing himself in the abyss of death, he conquered it, and rose and opened the doors of eternity for us too. Christ sustains us through the night of death which he himself overcame; he is the Good Shepherd, on whose guidance one can rely without any fear, for he knows the way well, even through darkness.

Every Sunday in reciting the Creed, we reaffirm this truth. And in going to cemeteries to pray with affection and love for our departed, we are invited, once more, to renew with courage and with strength our faith in eternal life, indeed to live with this great hope and to bear witness to it in the world: behind the present there is not nothing. And faith in eternal life gives to Christians the courage to love our earth ever more intensely and to work in order to build a future for it, to give it a true and sure hope. Thank you."

BXVI - General Audience, Paul VI Audience Hall, Wednesday, 2 November 2011 - © Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana