The Universal Church has chosen the month of November as the month of the souls. By this, the Church has given a special favour to each Catholic and even the non-Catholics to remember their dead and work seriously for their deliverance.
On the 1st of November, we celebrated “All Saints”, the Church Triumphant, 2nd of November was “All Souls”, the Church Suffering, and each day should be for All of Us, the Church Militant. That would complete the Communion of Saints. On All Souls day, we pray for the Church Suffering. What does the Church mean by the “Church Suffering” – She is talking about Purgatory.
Is there a purgatory? Protestants deny that there is a purgatory. But they pray for the dead which means that there is a Purgatory. They believe only in heaven and hell. They therefore indirectly believed in heaven, hell and purgatory.
The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent based on certain Biblical references:
- If it is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as if through the flames. (1 Co 3:15)
- “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:7)
From these two texts above St. Augustine — and after him John Calvin — taught the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, i.e., the notion that a child of God can never so sin as to be finally lost.
As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgement, there is a purifying fire. Jesus tells in Matthew 12:32 that “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the one to come.
From this statement of Jesus’ sentence, St. Gregory the Great Explained that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.
Though Scripture has no explicit mention of purgatory, but from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we come to understand that 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." (2 Macc 12:46.)
Tradition of the Church also testifies that from the beginning Christians have prayed for the dead. (Catacombs- Subterranean galleries used as burial grounds by the Christians of the first centuries. Rome alone has more than 60 catacombs. The tombs of the martyrs buried there became altars for the celebration of the divine mysteries).
If you pray for the dead it is presumed that there is a purgatory because souls in heaven need no prayers and the souls in hell cannot be helped by prayer.
The Christian belief in the Resurrection is evident in the language that the early Christians used: The Roman pagans used the term “necropolis” (city of the dead), whereas the Christians used the term “cemetery”, meaning dormitory or place of sleep.
So, from the beginning the Church has honoured 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 (Council of Lyon).
Praying for the dead is a Christian obligation. In the modern world, when many have come to doubt the Church's teaching on Purgatory, the need for such prayers has only increased.
The Church devotes the month of November to prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. She also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.
Talking about Purgatory, some maybe asking how this purgatory may be like? It is a place of purification, a place of atonement, a place of reparation before seeing God face to face (Beatific Vision). It is also a place of great suffering. They cannot help themselves because the time for merit ended with death. It is the pain of a lover separated from the beloved. “Fire” is a metaphor, the fire of love which purifies. St. Thomas calls it “impatience.” St. Augustine calls it “restless.
We can decide today to reduce the number of our brothers and sisters who may be in Purgatory with our active devotions to prayers for their release, alms giving and Masses. There are two plenary indulgences (a remission of the entire temporal punishment for sin) attached to All Souls Day, one for visiting a church and another for visiting a cemetery. (The plenary indulgence for visiting a cemetery can also be obtained every day from November 1-8, and, as a partial indulgence, on any day of the year.)
While the actions are performed by the living, the merits of the indulgences are applicable only to the souls in Purgatory.
Since a plenary indulgence removes all of the temporal punishment for sin, which is the reason why souls are in Purgatory in the first place, applying a plenary indulgence to one of the Holy Souls in Purgatory means that the Holy Soul is released from Purgatory and enters Heaven.
May we use this opportunity to also pray for those holy souls in purgatory who may have no one to pray for them, so that through our prayers, they too may be helped. And maybe we should also remember even those who have used to be our enemies and treated us badly in life, and are now in purgatory. Let us all forgive them what they have done to us and pray for them so that as what God has said Himself, that He may forgive us our sins just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.
And may we too be faithful and be righteous that one day we will also merit the entry into His glorious kingdom. Amen.
posted by: Mark