Season of Poor Souls is Always - Catholic Action For Faith and Family

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In the Catholic tradition, November is the month of the Poor Souls in Purgatory. It begins with the Solemn Feast of All Saints (November 1) and the Commemoration of All Souls (November 2). However, the season to pray for the souls in purgatory is always.

It is helpful to reflect during this season of the Resurrection – the fifty days of Easter – on our duty to pray for those who are undergoing the purification required to ready them for heaven. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1030) Although they live in the sure hope that they will see God in everlasting life, the souls in Purgatory count on our prayers. They are helpless to assist themselves.

The Catechism reminds us that we can do much to help the Poor Souls. The Church urges prayers, almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead. But above all, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered for all souls, or for particular persons who have died, helps to hasten their purification, so that they may attain the beatific vision of God. (CCC, no. 1032) When these souls reach heaven, helped by our prayers, they can become grateful intercessors for us!

300x188-CelebratingMass.jpgWhy is the Holy Mass so powerful in this regard? The Mass is the Re-Presentation of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Mass is a true sacrifice. The sacrifice of Calvary is made present on the altar in an unbloody manner.  In his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, ‘The Church Draws Her Life from the Eucharist,’ Pope St. John Paul II writes:

“This [Eucharistic] sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there.” (E de E no. 11)

The salvation of souls rests on the Paschal Mystery; on what we celebrated recently at the Triduum of Holy Week: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil. This same mystery of Jesus’ saving love is made present at every Mass. To offer Holy Mass for someone who has died, for someone in Purgatory, is to apply to their circumstance the power of Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary. In itself, that act of Christ – offered once for all - was sufficient for the salvation of the whole world. Perhaps because of our hard and sinful hearts; because of our lifelong stubbornness to fully accept Jesus and His law of love, we may need many such prayers and Masses to prepare us for heaven. Even if our sins have been forgiven, we may still be required to satisfy the temporal punishment due for sin. This purification of our sinful attachments, can take place here on earth or in Purgatory. (CCC nos. 1472-1473)

250x381-catafalque.jpgBefore the changes in the Sacred Liturgy which began after the Second Vatican Council, the priest would sometimes offer a “Requiem Mass,” a Mass for the dead. He would wear black vestments, not in any way to deny the Resurrection, but to remind us of our mortality. Typically in the church aisle would be set the “catafalque.”

The catafalque was a coffin shaped structure or box that was covered with a black pall. At the end of the Mass the priest would offer the prayers of absolution and commendation to God. He would bless the catafalque with holy water and incense. This draped coffin-like structure represented all the deceased persons prayed for at that Requiem Mass. Because it was empty, the catafalque also reminded us all that there was a place inside for us. This is a sobering reminder that we too will die, and that we will go to our judgement before Almighty God.

Daily Masses today are not usually requiem Masses. Nonetheless, they, many times, are offered for the repose of souls. This is a work which the members of the Church on earth can and ought to do for the “Church Suffering,” that is, for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. Remembering this intention as we pray for the dead can help us be mindful of the certainty of our own death; and the urgency of true repentance.

Lent is not the only season of repentance. Jesus constantly calls to us, “Repent and believe in the Gospel; Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” 

November is not the only season to pray for the Poor Souls. We can and ought to remember them in every season, realizing how we also will count on the prayers of others after we die.

Dies Irae, dies illa (excerpt in English, translation from the 1962 Missal)

The Dies Irae is attributed to Friar Thomas of Celano. (13th Century A.D.) It was sung as part of the Requiem Mass. While the prospect of the final and everlasting judgement is sobering, there is also a prayer of hope in Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Day of wrath, day that
will dissolve the world into burning coals,
as David bore witness with the Sibyl.

How great a tremor is to be,
when the judge is to come
briskly shattering every (grave).

A trumpet sounding an astonishing sound
through the tombs of the region
drives all (men) before the throne.

The written book will be brought forth,
in which the whole (record of evidence) is contained
whence the world is to be judged.

Therefore when the Judge shall sit,
whatever lay hidden will appear;
nothing unavenged will remain.

What am I the wretch then to say?
what patron I to beseech?
when scarcely the just (man) be secure.

King of tremendous Majesty,
who saves those-to-be-saved free,
save me, Fount of piety.

Remember, faithful Jesus,
because I am the cause of your journey:
do not lose me on that day.

Thou has sat down as one wearied seeking me,
Thou has redeemed (me) having suffered the Cross:
so much labor let it not be lost.

Kneeling and bowed down I pray,
My heart contrite as ashes:
Do Thou {, my End,} care for my end.

Faithful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest.
Amen.

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