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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Never Forgotten - The Feast of All Souls

November 2nd is the Feast of All Souls, and all of November we are called to especially remember the dead, those who have left for eternity and may be suffering the agony and ecstasy of Purgatory.

Yes, the Doctrine of Purgatory is alive and well, although many funeral-goers in our day and age may be missing this teaching. It has become common for many who come to Catholic funerals to be subjected to the Eulogy line-dance of nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, children and friends of the deceased offering their varied tributes to the guest of honor, none of which actually ask for prayers for their soul.

There are those who don't understand why such a display is inappropriate to a Catholic Mass, and this lack of understanding is scandalous because it does not only betray an ignorance of the doctrine of Purgatory, but also of the reality and holiness of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which is nothing other than the entire life of Christ and most especially, the Sacrifice of Calvary made present right through the Resurrection.  *deep breath* 

The Catholic funeral is to call to mind, most especially, the death and resurrection of Christ, the hope of salvation, the reality of purgatory and the necessity of prayers for the deceased.

The liturgical and devotional practices of November are to call us to remember the dead, pray for the Holy Souls and reflect upon, in this season of death, our own future particular judgment. One day we will all stand alone, naked, before God, our entire lives, actions and omissions up for review. Heaven is not a guarantee. We do not get there by being merely "nice people".  We are called to be HOLY which is NOT the same thing as, "a nice guy".  I know a lot of "nice guys" and "nice gals" living a life of utter rejection of God. And I used to be one of them.

If I'm not careful, I could return to such a state, for I, too am weak. I, too, will face my Judgment and it will NOT be pretty, for I have much to atone for already, and my life is not  yet over.


There is always debate about what Catholics believe with regard to ghosts.

Yes, I believe in ghosts, but my belief as a Catholic does not usually match the popular portrayal of them.

We, as human beings, are body and soul, and we believe in a future resurrection. When we physically die, our souls go on, either to Purgatory to be purged of any impurity, or we go straight to heaven, if, in fact, we have attained a state of holiness that allows us to bypass the necessary purgation.  This is what the process of canonization reveals; whether a person has truly lived such a holy life.

What are ghosts?

Recently I read a tale of a little girl who inhabited a cemetery and a trail nearby, as well as other adjacent domains. Many people describe the apparition, what she is wearing, how she sounds when she speaks, and some paranormal investigators tried to locate her own cemeterial domicile.  In their findings, they thought this spectre might belong to a Protestant corner of an ecumenical cemetery, given the documented sightings.

As I read the story, I was struck not only by her plaintive attempts at communication, but also by her suspected origin; the Protestant corner (vs. Catholic, Jewish, or non-religious).  I realized that this little girl might be in purgatory for, as a protestant child, no one is praying for her soul. I began to do so, in hopes that perhaps all she was seeking in her appearances was someone to notice and pray for her.

Yes, I notice.  All we Catholics notice.

Well....maybe. After all, if Purgatory is not preached in our own parishes, how many are actually praying for souls?

How many pray for even their own dead?

I confess that I rarely pray for even my own family's souls. I am ashamed, but this day every year gives me a fresh reminder and holds me to account for my own sin of omission, for yes, it is a sin to not pray for the dead!

It is for this reason that, this year, I want to especially focus on prayer for the deceased. We cannot know their judgment, so we look to the resurrection, to the mercy of God, and we know that each and every cemetery reveals an opportunity for grace and is, in and of itself, a sign of hope.

I've been looking, therefore, for nearby cemeteries, to include inactive ones still containing their dead, for I hope to go there to pray most especially for those souls that have been forgotten. I encourage you all to do the same in your own locale.  For those in Minnesota, you may begin your light "research" here.

How many have been forgotten?

How many souls roam about the earth not to haunt, but only to be noticed in hopes some generous and compassionate soul will pray for them?

Last weekend I visited a cemetery and saw many broken, abandoned tombstones. Perhaps their family has died and gone away. I am reminded of my own father's tombstone, which I have never seen and now, no one lives close enough to visit. I have never seen where my grandmother was buried, and know that her Protestant daughter and son-in-law do not pray for her for they do not believe as we Catholics do. I don't think I've ever been taken to my Grandfather's grave, likely in the same cemetery.

I feel guilty because I have never been there and know that my own family's graves are abandoned, but I find one consolation; better the grave site be abandoned than their souls.

Still, I cannot help but be struck by obviously abandoned graves, knowing from observation and experience how few people really visit graveyards outside of the burial, and if they do, it is for sentiment and not for pious prayers for their beloved deceased.  It is a joy to behold flowers decorating a grave, for it tells me that person was and remains loved.  However, does that love always translate to ongoing prayers for their eternal souls? We cannot know; we can only examine ourselves, not the motivations of others.

Let no soul be forgotten; let us always pray for them, remember them, and  ensure that no soul ever spend their purgatory begging to be noticed.

Do not let the spiritual bouquet of prayers be only plastic replicas, but give those Holy Suffering Souls the living flowers of prayer and penance; one day you will be where they are, and you do not want to be one of the Abandoned.

REQUIEM aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. Amen.
ETERNAL rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.


ck said...

When I was younger I happened across a little prayer book that explained that the poor souls can't pray for themselves but they can pray for us. What a win-win situation! We get to do something no less heroic than saving someone from a burning building, and in return we are assured of the prayers of a grateful saint! The Poor Souls have been in my prayers ever since. What a crime we were never taught this is school. I always feel like it is the one prayer where God's answer is always, "Yes".

Mindy Goorchenko said...

I wrote a post on this subject recently as well. I had an experience with my grandmother's soul that is relevant to what you wrote. Thank you for sharing your perspective on the subject. As a convert, I was given a prayer book with many prayers and explanations about purgatory so it has always been in my awareness, but only in certain parishes does it get mentioned.