On All Saints Day, I find myself thinking less of big-name saints and more of dear friends and family who have died. I truly believe that these good women and men, whom I was blessed to know and walk this earth with, have now joined that glorious communion in heaven. They are now members of the All Saints Club. They are my personal saints.
Then comes All Souls Day. This is the day to remember our dearly departed and pray for their souls. Oops! Do I have my feast days mixed up? Is my theology screwed?
Many, I suppose, would say Yes and proceed to guide me to the requisite section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that teaches about purgatory and the need to pray for souls. (CCC 1030-1032) We cannot presume eternal salvation, they would tell me. Only God knows if our loved ones have, indeed, attained heavenly glory. Even good people die with traces of sin that need purifying, and it is only through our prayers and actions that they can eventually be welcomed into heaven.
There was a time when I believed in purgatory. It made logical sense. It seemed a fitting place for those of us who tread the path between sinner and saint; definitely not hell material, but not quite ready for heaven. I was taught as a child that reciting three rosaries would free one soul from purgatory. Wow! I could do that? Cool!
On the other hand, it’s easy to be sceptical. The church’s teaching and promotion of purgatory opened the gates to abuses in the form of indulgences, a way to purchase a fast track ticket to heaven for yourself and your loved ones while filling the church coffers. These “Fear-Instilling Fund-Raisers” were wildly successful over the years, financing the building of massive churches and funding crusades.
Hubby was always a purgatory sceptic. His favourite argument was the gospel story of the good thief.
Jesus never said, “see you soon” to the good thief. He said “TODAY you will be with me in paradise.” This, hubby argues, is proof of the boundless love and forgiveness of Jesus. It’s a hard argument to deny.
I no longer believe in purgatory but I do believe in the communion of saints. (Oops, my cafeteria catholic roots are showing! 😉 ) The communion of saints assures me, in my grief, that those I loved and are now gone from this earth have not only entered into a new and more glorious existence, they remain united with us in spirit across time and space, between heaven and earth.
Along with Mary and all the saints, our loved ones now pray with us, pray for us, and pray for all those we offer up in need of God’s mercy and love.
I still pray the traditional prayer for the dead. The words are comforting and come easily to the mind, heart and lips when I hear news of someone who has recently died.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, Let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.
Yes, today I remember my family and friends who have died.
With faith, I believe that they have joined that glorious communion of saints in heaven.
With hope, I believe that one day we will be united in God’s presence forever.
With love, I believe that this is the greatest of virtues. Love knows no bounds. Love transcends time and space. Love binds us between heaven and earth.
Love never dies.