All Saints' Day has passed and we are now on to the Feast of All Souls, also known as el Dia de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead). We do not speak of death easily in our culture. There is great trembling and fear surrounding the end of life, and increasingly more and more irreverence as we move toward becoming a society who feigns control over both when life should (or shouldn't) begin, as well as when life has been lived enough.
The Feast of All Souls reminds us that life as Christians is not about our mere mortal existence. Following up on All Saints', where we celebrate those who have "made it," All Souls' Day reminds us of those who still need our prayers on their journey as they are prepared for eternal life. As Fr. Bill reminded us at our intimate All Saints' Day Mass, we think often of the saints with a capital S, the big ones whose help we ask in prayer. We more often forget that all the baptized are meant to be saints with a little s. While not all the baptized end up striving for sainthood, it should be our goal, as the simplest definition of a saint is one who is united with Christ in heaven. That is, after all, what our greatest goal should be in this life and the next. So as souls pass from this world to the next, we should most certainly be lifting up our prayers that they made be found worthy to join Jesus in the eternal Kingdom.
There remains much confusion and debate about the existence of purgatory, where souls are further purified for heaven. The official teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is this:
III. THE FINAL PURIFICATION, OR PURGATORY1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:607As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.608
1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin."609 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:
Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.611
As a family, we make an honest attempt to remember always to pray for those who have gone on before us. We don't always do a stellar job, but we do try. In my attempt to get a better grip on being intentional in our prayers and traditions as a family, if October hadn't slipped through my fingers, I would have made remembrance ornaments to hang from our "mantle" shelf as a reminder for the month of November to pray not only for those who have died among our friends and families, but also in a special way for those who have no one to remember to pray for them. God has created us all for Himself and desires our return into His arms. How sad that there are so many who have no one to help them on their way back to the Lord.
On this Day of the Dead, let's offer our prayers for all those who have died, those who remain close to us and in a special way those who have no one to pray for them.
A Prayer for the Forgotten Dead
O merciful God,
take pity on those souls
who have no particular friends and intercessors
to recommend them to You, who,
either through the negligence of those who are alive,
or through length of time are forgotten
by their friends and by all.
Spare them, O Lord,
and remember Your own mercy,
when others forget to appeal to it.
Let not the souls which You have created
be parted from you, their Creator.
May the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.