Yesterday evening we gathered for the Solemnity of All Saints, that feast where we celebrate all those who’ve gone before us as examples of faithful discipleship and who now live in the full presence of the risen Lord and our merciful Father. It was a celebration of joy, for we rejoice in the glory they share. And it was a celebration of hope, for we look forward to the day when we can join them.
This morning, however, we gather to commemorate all the faithful departed. This day of ‘All Souls’ is a day that the Church has set aside (for nearly a thousand years, now) to pray for those who’ve died, but haven’t yet entered into the joy and glory of heaven. It’s a day when we gather to pray for those who are in Purgatory.
Despite misunderstandings in recent decades, the Church still teaches the existence of Purgatory, a ‘place’ where we go to be purified of obstacles that prevent us from being fully in the presence of God. The Catechism says: 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 (no. 1030). They’re washing themselves in preparation for the heavenly banquet.
As such, then, this ‘place’ of purification isn’t a bad place; in fact, it’s a beautiful sign of God’s endless mercy. Though we might not be fully ready to enter into His glory, God doesn’t reject us, but gives us more ‘time’ to be sanctified. And as the Catechism says, those in Purgatory are saved: they’re not going to Hell; they just don’t yet enjoy the full fruit of their salvation.
Yesterday I wore white as a symbol of our joy in communion with the saints. Today, as we pray for those who’ve died, I wear violet as a symbol of the sober reality of death and of our communion with those who are doing penance in Purgatory.
And that’s why we’re here today: to pray for the dead, because our prayers help those in Purgatory to be purified by God’s mercy. That’s why it’s important and virtuous to pray for the dead, and why the Church encourages us to do so throughout the year, but especially today on this day dedicated to it.
This is a strong reminder of the nature of our humanity and of our faith. Try as we might, we simply cannot escape the reality of death. Ever since the sin of Adam and Eve, it’s been a necessary consequence of our fallen human nature.
But, death isn’t the end. Though our bodies die, our lives continue, because God created us in His own image and likeness (Gn 1:26-27) for the purpose of communion with Him. He created us to live in His presence. But sin ruptured our relationship with God, and cut us off from Him who is our source of life, and so death became a reality. But God didn’t leave us to die; He sent His only begotten Son save us.
On the Cross, Jesus freed us from our sins. By rising to new life, He earned for us eternal life. Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, physical death is not the end for us: we have access to eternal life in God’s presence. But Christ’s resurrection is only the first fruits (1 Cor 15:20), a pledge of our own resurrection to come. This is the hope and the joy of our salvation, for we know that [our] Redeemer lives (Job 19:25) and that all will be made alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:22).
And so today, we turn to our Saviour and pray for those who have died but haven’t yet entered into the fullness of His glory: may their sins be forgiven and may they be sanctified by the merits of Christ, so as to enter into the fullness of His glory.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.