November 2: All Souls’ Day—Commemoration
Liturgical Color: White, Violet, or Black
Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin. ~ 2 Maccabees 12:42–46
Yesterday, the Church celebrated those men and women who have gone before us who now see God face to face in the Beatific Vision. Whether they are officially canonized or not, everyone in Heaven is a saint and will remain so for eternity, living lives of perfect communion with God and with everyone else in Heaven. There will be perfect order, knowledge, joy, love, and happiness forever. Too often in this life we lose focus on eternity. We easily become overly concerned about the here and now and fail to turn our eyes to Heaven, seeking to prepare ourselves fully for the day we die and come before God for our particular judgment.
Today, as we commemorate All Souls, we turn our eyes to those men and women who have gone before us in death but died before being fully purified of every venial sin and all of sin’s effects. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it this way: “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. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” (#1030–31).
All Souls’ Day should have a twofold focus for each of us. First and foremost, today’s commemoration is a call to prayer for those who have died and are being purified in final preparation for their entrance into the Beatific Vision. Though God has no need of our prayers, it is His divine will that we participate in the distribution of His grace. For that reason, He chooses to solicit our prayers and then answer them, making us active instruments of His purifying grace so needed by those in this world and in Purgatory. By praying for those in Purgatory, especially today, we are assured that God lavishes upon them all that they need for the complete purification of their souls. The Mass, and our participation in the Mass, is particularly powerful and is the ideal way to open the floodgates of mercy for our loved ones who have died and remain unperfected. Take this duty to pray for these “poor souls” seriously. A common secular heresy that permeates Western culture says that a good person goes to Heaven immediately after death or becomes an angel. This well-intentioned, but erroneous, belief leaves many souls unprayed for. Know that those souls are depending on your prayers, because God wants you to pray for them and lovingly share in their purification. Offer prayers fervently for those souls.
A second focus to have on All Souls’ Day is upon your own soul. Today’s commemoration reminds us of the importance of our ongoing deepening conversion. We are all called to be saints. Ideally, our central focus in life is to become a living saint and not wait to be fully purified in Purgatory. Becoming a saint today requires not only a lot from us, it requires everything. Absolutely everything! Becoming a saint here and now means that we diligently seek out every sinful attachment within our souls and annihilate them. It means we continuously seek God’s mercy, confess our sins, receive forgiveness, and then change our lives completely. This is no small task!
One of the best ways to understand Purgatory is by studying the teachings of the greatest masters of the spiritual life, especially Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Ávila. These two Doctors of the Church wrote extensively about the process a soul goes through on its way to divine union, also called mystical marriage. Saint Teresa does this by describing a series of seven interior dwelling places through which a person must travel, each one requiring a deeper level of purification, culminating with the soul entering the innermost dwelling place, the presence chamber, where divine union takes place and the soul is fully purified of everything that is not God. Only souls who have entered this innermost dwelling place in this life, and die while in that state of divine union, will avoid the purification of Purgatory.
Saint John of the Cross wrote extensively of the same process of purification, using different terminology. He described two main purifications a soul goes through on the journey toward perfection. The first is the dark night of the senses, by which every bodily sense and appetite is purified. The second is the dark night of the spirit, by which the intellect, memory, and will are fully purified by the perfection of infused faith, hope, and charity. Prior to the first purification, the soul is in the purgative way. While in between the two purifications, the soul is in the illuminative way. After completing the second purification, the soul enters the unitive way, or mystical marriage, which is the same as Saint Teresa’s seventh dwelling place.
The reason for painting this very broad overview of their detailed writings on the journey of a soul toward perfection is to emphasize the fact that perfection is, indeed, a long and difficult process, but a necessary one that must take place either in this life or in the next. Every person must come to the realization that personal sanctity must become not only each one’s first mission in life but the exclusive mission. When personal sanctity is a person’s exclusive mission, every other part of that person’s life falls into place. Virtues grow, love for family and friends increases, duties are perfectly fulfilled, and God is fully glorified.
As we participate today in this Commemoration of All Souls, commit yourself first to praying for those who have died and are in need of final purification. Purgatory is God’s act of final mercy for those whom He loves with a burning and purifying love. Your prayers open the floodgates of God’s love on those who need it the most. As you pray for those who have died, pray also for your own soul and ponder how fervently you seek to become transformed into a living saint. Though the journey to divine union is not a quick and easy one, it is a journey well worth it. Make it your exclusive mission in life, and know that if you do, you will never regret it.
Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, all the angels and saints, I beg for an outpouring of Your Divine Mercy upon every poor sinner and every poor soul in Purgatory. Cleanse them all, especially my family and friends who have died, and bring them into the full beauty and splendor of Your presence. Please also pour Your mercy down upon my poor soul, and free me from every sin and every attachment I have to sin. Increase my virtue, and draw me into union with You, my God. Angels and saints of God, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You.
Further Reading and Prayers: