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November 2, 2008

All Souls Day

                                    
        While All Saints Day commemorates the men and women who have lived an exemplary life dedicated to the teachings of Christ, we fully realize that the majority of Catholic Christians are not living saints.  This is not to say that they are not good people.  The majority of people appear to be trying their best to live a good life.  However, in reality, maintaining goodness and holiness on a daily basis is easier said than done. With this in mind, the church celebrates the feast of All Souls Day.

    All Souls Day has been in existence for centuries, i.e. since the 10th century, when Odilo of Cluny commanded its annual celebration in the Benedictine houses of his congregation.  The practice soon spread to the Carthusian congregations as well.   Over the centuries the day was set for November 2nd and is commemorated by all Catholics in the Western world.  The Anglicans and Lutherans also commemorate this day.

    The purpose for All Souls day has become murky over the past few decades.  The main issue revolves around the concept of Purgatory.  Many Catholics do not quite understand what purgatory really is or are not quite sure that there is such a “place” as Purgatory.  Perhaps this would be as good a time as any to refresh our memory.

    We begin with the fact that Catholics believe that not all people who die in God’s grace are automatically ready for the “Beatific vision”, i.e. the reality and goodness of God and heaven.  As mentioned above, many people try to live a good life but often fail to be consistent. Yes we believe in God and we want to love him but we often fail.  We are all sinners after all and most of us die in a state of sinfulness. 

    If we are not ready for the fullness of God’s presence, it follows that we must enter into a place that will enable us to be purified of the effects of our sins.  The church calls this place “purgatory.”  There is not official dogma as to the duration, place, and exact nature of this purification.  Many Catholics, including Pope Benedict XVI believe that Purgatory may be an existential state rather than a temporal place.  In other words, Purgatory may be something we experience instantaneously, because it is outside of the confines of created time and space.      If we were to use more common language, Purgatory could be said to be a place to “clean up” before going into the presence of Almighty God. 

    Lastly we believe that the prayers and masses of the living, in some way, benefit those in the state of purification.  This belief is consistent with the belief that we are all members of the Communion of Saints.  There are three groups involved in this communion.  There are the saints who have attained full union with God.  There are the saints who need purification and there are the faithful on earth.  The three groups are interconnected and pray to and for one another. 

    As we remember our loved one and those who have no one to pray for them, let us ask God to bring them into his loving presence now and forever.
                                Lorette P. Nault