Today’s feast of All Souls, and yesterday’s feast of all Saints are connected by the same promise of eternal life with God. Yesterday, we acknowledged how happy we are that some of our race, the “Saints”, have been assured that they made it to heaven and received the Promises Jesus made to the Just, the “poor in Spirit”. We venerate the Saints because they are looking upon the “Face of God” for all eternity. We know they are saved. The Church holds them up as excellent models for us to follow.
Today’s Feast of All the Faithful Departed, “All Souls”, is the Church’s acknowledgment of human weakness, but also of hope. Since few people achieve perfection in this life but, rather, go to the grave still scarred with traces of sinfulness, some period of purification seems necessary before a soul comes face-to-face with God. The Council of Trent affirmed this purgatory state and insisted that the prayers of the living can speed the process of purification. Throughout all of Church history we have acknowledged the ongoing connection between the living in this world and those who no longer live in this world. The body dies, but we believe in God’s Mercy; and we accept Jesus’ teaching that there will be a time of testing and judgment prior to life in Heaven. We believe in Resurrection of body and soul into eternal life. This is Catholic teaching.
We acknowledge that not all souls are in Heaven, but neither are they in Hell. They are in Purgatory.
Protestants argue that “Purgatory” is false because it is not in the Bible. However, the concept of Purgatory is all through the Bible. The problem is that the word “Purgatory” is Latin and this vocabulary came after the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek.
At the time of our physical death we may be still clinging to the world and its pleasures, or we may have not done sufficient penance for our sins on earth. Sincere repentance includes a desire to repair the damage done by one’s sins. That may or may not be complete before the person dies.
Jesus has said that we will pay the last penny; we will pay our debts through penance. This does not mean we will necessarily be condemned to Hell. We have to choose Hell by rejecting God and His Commandments, rebelling like Adam and Eve. However, we will need to get our souls cleaned up and learn to desire Heaven more than the world. Unless we desire Heaven more than the world we will not go into Heaven. Christians are encouraged to include penance in their life and worship on earth. We have to choose Heaven, in our words and in our deeds.
Today we remember our loved ones who have passed away. We are sad for losing their presence in our lives. Often when someone dies, especially, if he has suffered much, we are relieved, as if the suffering is over. We hope that our loved ones will go to Heaven.
As Church tradition teaches us, we should be praying for their eternal salvation and forgiveness of their sins so that they can get into to Heaven. We can help pay the debts of others with our sacrifices and prayers. That is why we pray for the souls in Purgatory. This is an ancient tradition in Jewish and Christian belief. In the book of 2 Macabees 12 in the Old Testament, we read of Judas offering “expiatory sacrifice” for the dead, when he told his soldiers to pray and make sacrifices for their dead colleagues,
In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind, for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.
Protestants may not know this reading because in the 15th Century many of them eliminated seven traditional Old Testament books, like Macabees, from the Bible.
In the Book of Wisdom, in our first reading today we hear,
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
We will be “chastised a little” in Purgatory, but then “greatly blessed”.
We are forgiven of our sins by our Baptism and Confession. We must do penance for our sins and cancel our debts. Penance is a part of every confession. We cannot earn our way into Heaven, but must seek God’s mercy. Also, if the debts are too great, then we hope to have the help of loved ones and even the Saints. They can’t get us into Heaven. Only God can do that. In Purgatory we will confront our debts and sins and experience God’s Love and Mercy. As Christians we can also help the souls in Purgatory by making spiritual sacrifices for them. This is an act of love.
Purgatory is not Hell. Purgatory is not a place of fire and brimstone on the edge of Hell. Purgatory is the place of Divine Judgment and Divine Love. God’s Divine Love burns away our attractions to earthly pleasures. If we have too much attachment for the things and pleasures of this world, we will have to confront these attachments, and choose between those and the attractions of God’s Love. This is an act of love that may not be easy for us at the point of our physical death. If we have penance to do, we will have to do this penance, either on earth, in Purgatory or both. But we can also do penance for our loved ones in Purgatory. We pray for our dead.
As Jesus said in the Gospel,
For this is the will of my Father,
that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him
may have eternal life,
and I shall raise him on the last day.