2 November: Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

Reflections on our prayer for the holy souls in Purgatory and the help we receive from them in return.

St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Catherine Church, Genoa, Italy (Wiki Commons)
  • Jesus promises us a dwelling in heaven
  • The souls in Purgatory and our intercession for them
  • Mutual help through the souls in Purgatory

“LET NOT your hearts be troubled,” Jesus tells us today. “Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms” (Jn 14:1-2). The commemoration of all the faithful departed offers us the opportunity to reflect once again on the reality of eternal life, directing our heart towards the hope of the definitive encounter with true Love forever. None of us has crossed the threshold of death, so we don’t know what that moment will be like. God wanted, in his Son, to reveal to us what awaits us in our homeland.

“Yesterday and today, many have been visiting cemeteries, which, as the word itself implies, is the ‘place of rest,’ as we wait for the final awakening. It is lovely to think that it will be Jesus himself who awakens us. Jesus himself revealed that the death of the body is like a sleep from which He awakens us. With this faith we pause — even spiritually — at the graves of our loved ones, of those who loved us and did us good. But today we are called to remember everyone, even those who no one remembers.”[1]

“When I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn 14:3). “Man needs eternity. Every other hope is too brief, too limited for him. The human being 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.”[2]

“ETERNAL REST grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them,”[3] we ask today at the beginning of Mass. The situation of the faithful departed who have not yet reached heaven is one of suffering and joy at the same time. Pain and happiness are mysteriously intertwined in Purgatory. The reason for their joy is the certainty that they will see God: they have won the battle, with their determination to be happy both on earth and in heaven. These souls are one step away from glory, and therefore Christian tradition calls them the “blessed souls in Purgatory.”

Even suffering is a source of joy there, since these souls joyfully accept their suffering, fully surrendered to the divine will. With fiery love, though still imperfect, they worship the mystery of God’s holiness. Saint Catherine of Genoa, known especially for her vision of Purgatory, “did not see Purgatory as a scene in the bowels of the earth: for her it is not an exterior but rather an interior fire. This is Purgatory: an inner fire. The Saint speaks of the Soul’s journey of purification on the way to full communion with God, starting from her own experience of profound sorrow for the sins committed, in comparison with God’s infinite love.”[4]

In one of the Eucharistic prayers in the Missal, the priest beseeches God on behalf of all of us: “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection, and all those who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face.”[5] Of all the suffrages we can offer, the most valuable is the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar. Holy Mass can be celebrated for the deceased. The Church, anxious that these souls reach heaven as soon as possible, today allows all priests to celebrate Holy Mass three times. She also encourages us to pray for our brothers and sisters who “rest in the sleep of peace.” In addition to the Eucharist, the devotion of the Christian people has also found in pious practices such as the holy Rosary, responses and deeds of penance, a true path of prayer to intercede for the deceased.

OUR COMMUNION with the whole Church, and in this case with the deceased, means that “our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”[6] The saints have often encouraged this mutual help. Saint Alphonsus Liguori states that God makes known to the souls in Purgatory our prayers, “and therefore, since they are so filled with charity, surely we can ask them to intercede for us.”[7] Saint Therese of the Child Jesus frequently had recourse to their help and, after receiving it, felt deeply in their debt: “O my God, I beg You, pay the debt that I have acquired with the souls in Purgatory.”[8] Saint Josemaría also testified to the help he received from them: “At the beginning I felt the company of the souls in Purgatory very strongly. I felt them as if they were tugging me by the cassock, asking me to pray for them and to ask them for their intercession. Since then, due to the great services they have done for me, I like to preach about and foster in souls this reality: my good friends the souls in Purgatory.”[9]

This experience of the saints shows us that our love for those dear to us can transcend death. “No man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve … As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.”[10]

“We turn now to Our Lady, who suffered the tragedy of Christ’s death beneath the Cross and took part in the joy of his Resurrection. May Mary, the Gate of Heaven, help us to understand more and more the value of prayer in suffrage for the souls of the dead. They are close to us! May she support us on our daily pilgrimage on earth and help us to never lose sight of life’s ultimate goal which is Heaven.”[11]

[1] Francis, Angelus, 2 November 2014.

[2] Benedict XVI, Audience, 2 November 2011.

[3] Entrance antiphon, Mass for the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed.

[4] Benedict XVI, Audience, 12 January 2011.

[5] Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer II.

[6] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 958.

[7] Saint Alphonsus Liguori, The Great Means of Prayer, ch. I, III.

[8] Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, Last Conversations, 6 August 1897.

[9] The Way: Critical-Historical Edition, edited by Pedro Rodriguez, p. 740.

[10] Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 30 November 2007.

[11] Francis, Angelus, 2 November 2014.

Image: By Denys3200 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93330910