[Copyright TAN Books, reproduced with permission.]
Grant, O Lord, eternal rest to the souls of the departed; and may the thought of death spur me on to greater generosity.
1. "Holy Church, our good Mother, after having exalted with fitting praise all her children who now rejoice in heaven, strives also to help all those who still suffer in purgatory, and to this end intercedes with all her power before Christ, her Lord and Spouse, in order that as speedily as possible they may join the society of the elect in heaven." These are the words of the Roman Martyrology.
Yesterday we contemplated the glory of the Church triumphant and implored her intercession. Today we consider the expiatory pains of the Church suffering and solicit for these souls the divine assistance: "Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord." This is the dogma of the Communion of saints put into practice. The Church triumphant intercedes for us, the Church militant; and we, in our turn, hasten to the help of the Church suffering. Death has taken from us those we love; yet there can be no real separation from those who have died in the kiss of the Lord. The bond of charity continues to unite us, enfolding in one embrace, earth, heaven and purgatory, so that there circulates from one region to another the fraternal assistance which springs from love, which has as its end the triumph of love in the common glory of Paradise.
The liturgy of the day is pervaded with sadness, but it is not the grief of those "who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:12), for it is resplendent with faith in a blessed resurrection, in the eternal felicity which awaits us. The passages chosen for the Gospels of the three Masses for the faithful departed speak to us explicitly of all these consoling truths, and in a most authoritative way, since they repeat to us the very words of Jesus: "This is the will of the Father who sent Me; that of all that He hath given Me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again in the last day." (Gospel of the 2nd Mass of All Souls' Day: John 6:37-40) Could there be a more consoling assurance?
Jesus presents Himself to us today as the Good Shepherd who does not want to lose even one of His sheep, nor does He spare any pains to lead them all to salvation. As if in response to the sweet promises of Jesus, Holy Mother Church, full of gratitude and enthusiasm, cries out: "For with regard to Thy faithful, O Lord, life is changed, not taken away; and the abode of this earthly sojourn being dissolved, an eternal dwelling is prepared in heaven" (Preface). Rather than an inexorable end, death is, for the Christian, a door opening into eternity, a door which admits the soul into eternal life.
2. All Souls' Day makes us mindful not only of the death of our dear ones but also of our own. Death is a punishment, bringing with it, of necessity, a feeling of pain, of fear, of uncertainty. The saints experienced it, and Jesus Himself willed to undergo it. Thus the Church puts before us passages from Scripture most suited to encourage us: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lordů henceforth they rest from their labours, for their works follow them" (Epistle of the 3rd Mass of All Souls' Day: Apocalypse 14:13). The life of the body dies; the life of the spirit and the good deed accomplished during life remain; these deeds alone accompany the soul in its journey from this life and render its death precious.
"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." This death has been justly defined: "dies natalis", the day of birth to eternal life. Would that our own death might be such! A dies natalis which would bring us into the beatific vision, bring us to birth in the indefectible love of heaven.
However, by inviting us to pray for the faithful departed, today's liturgy reminds us that between death and eternal beatitude there is purgatory. Because our works do follow us, and not all of them are good works, or, even if they are good, the are full of faults and imperfections, it is necessary for the soul to be purified of every blemish before being admitted to the vision of God. And yet, if we were perfectly faithful to grace, there would be no need of purgatory, for God purifies here below those who give themselves wholly to Him, who let themselves be fashioned and formed according to His good pleasure. Furthermore, purification accomplished on earth has the great advantage of being meritorious, that is, of increasing grace and charity in us, thus permitting us to love God more for all eternity; whereas in purgatory, one suffers without growing in charity. That is why we should desire to be purified during life. But let us have no illusions: even on earth total purification entails great suffering. If now we are not generous in suffering, if here on earth we do not know how to accept suffering, pure and unmitigated, as Jesus did on the Cross, our purification will of necessity have to be completed in purgatory.
May the thought of that place of expiation rouse our zeal to pray for the souls of the departed, and may it also make us more courageous in embracing suffering in reparation for our own faults.
"Grant, O Lord, that I may experience a reasonable sorrow at the death of those who are dear to me, shedding tears of resignation over our mortal conditions, yet soon restraining them by this consoling thought of the faith: that in dying, the faithful have only withdrawn a little from us to go into a better world.
"May I not weep as do the pagans who are without hope. I may have reason to be sad, but in my affliction hope will comfort me. With hope so great, it is not fitting, O my God, that Your temple should be in mourning. You dwell there, You who are our Consoler; and You cannot fail in Your promises." (St Augustine)
"O Master and Creator of the universe, Lord of life and death, You give our souls being and fill them with blessings: You carry out and transform everything by the work of Your Word, at the time fore-ordained and according to the plan of Your Wisdom; receive, today, our deceased brethren and give them eternal rest.
"May You welcome us, in our turn, at the moment pleasing to You, after having guided us and left us in the body for as long as You think useful and salutary.
"Made ready in Your fear, without trouble and without delay, may You receive us on the last day. Grant that we may not leave the things of this world with regret, like those who are too much attached to earth and the flesh; grant that we may advance resolutely and happily toward that blessed and unending life which is in Christ Jesus Our Lord, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen." (St Gregory Nazianzen)