We must rightly thank God for our life, our Catholic faith, and all the blessings we might experience in this life: health, family, and the joy of work and prayer. Even as we endure hardship and suffering; while we face the battles that are required to “do good, and avoid evil,” we have reason to hope.
A most extraordinary source of strength and hope for us is that we are made for eternal glory. “Why did God make me?” the Baltimore Catechism asks. “God made me to know, love, and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” Heaven is our eternal destiny. We have an immortal soul. God calls us to be with Him forever. Nonetheless, He gives us free will and we can forfeit everlasting happiness. By our unrepentant sinfulness we can choose hell.
The beginning of November is graced by two feast days that celebrate the Communion of the Church: the Solemnity of All Saints (November 1), and the Commemoration of All Souls, (November 2). In the Catholic Church’s sacred liturgy, these days celebrate the reality of those members of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, who have gone before us.
We who are living in the world, are called the “Church Militant;” we fight the good fight of faith. (I Tim 6:12) Faith tells us that some are in heaven. They are called “The Church Triumphant.” Some of those souls of the faithful departed are in Purgatory. They are “The Church Suffering.”
Defined and affirmed by several councils, Purgatory is a clear teaching of the Catholic Church. “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1030)
While Purgatory involves suffering, there is no despair. The souls in Purgatory are promised heaven. The teaching and practice of the Church is that these suffering souls – a living part of the Church – depend on our prayers and sacrifices on their behalf. They ultimately count on God’s mercy, but you and I assist them in their progress toward heaven. We have Masses offered for them. We pray that they will quickly reach eternal happiness. From heaven these happy and grateful souls can then pray and intercede for us!
The souls in heaven are called saints. The Church raises up some saints “to the dignity of the altar.” They are canonized saints. By the process of the study of their lives, and the verification of miracles through their intercession, the Church testifies that they were holy men and women (or children), and that they exhibited an extraordinary or “heroic” virtue worthy of imitation. Prayer through the intercession of these saints is formalized in the Church’s liturgy. Often times we may look to them for a particular strength. They may be our “patron” as a parish priest, (St John Vianney), a carpenter or builder (St. Joseph), a wife and mother, (Blessed Mother Mary, St Monica, etc.) a lawyer (St Thomas More), and many others.
In addition to canonized saints, there is reason for hope that many others reach heaven as well. They are perhaps the “everyday saints,” whom the world did not know, but they a source of inspiration and love for us. They may be our parents, siblings, teachers or others whom we have known; who have cared for us at great sacrifice and have given us an example of holiness.
While we never stop praying for them and for their eternal happiness in heaven, we also may turn to them for their intercession. They are “the Communion of Saints,” in whom we profess belief at the end of the Apostles Creed. With us, and with the Poor Souls in Purgatory, they are living members of the Church. From heaven they can assist us as we strive to live faith, hope, and charity in obedience to God’s law and Christ’s teaching.
Pray for all those who have gone before us “marked with the sign of faith:” that the suffering souls in purgatory may soon reach heaven; that the saints will help us by their example, their prayers, and friendship.
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All Souls Day Plenary Indulgence
A plenary indulgence – the complete remission of temporal punishment due to sin - can be gained for a soul in purgatory on All Souls Day, (November 2) by making a visit to a church or oratory where the Most Blessed Sacrament is reserved.
There we should offer the “Our Father,” the “Hail Mary,” and the “Glory Be,” six times each.
To receive this indulgence on behalf of a soul, the usual conditions should be observed, that is: you should make a good Confession and receive Holy Communion worthily within some days before or after the visit. It is variously said to be 8 to 20 days. Additionally it is necessary to offer some prayer for the Holy Father.