Welcome to the last day of what I call the "Triduum of the Dead." That was what happened the past three days. On Sunday night, the secular world partied with the dead among the living – it was Halloween. Yesterday, the Church celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints – where we rejoice with our brothers and sisters who are already in heaven. And today, the Church commemorates all the faithful departed who are still undergoing purification – commonly known as All Souls’ Day. Of course, my reflection here concerns only All Saints and All Souls.
It is interesting to note that the Church places these two celebrations side by side. What we celebrated on All Saints’ Day is actually the future of those souls whom we remembered on All Souls’ Day, since we believe that the souls of those undergoing purification in purgatory will eventually end up as saints in heaven. Here’s the official teaching of the Church: “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.” [CCC 1030]
So why do we pray for the faithful departed? To ensure their entry into heaven? No, because as mentioned, their salvation is already assured. To ‘shorten’ their stay in purgatory? Possibly, but who are we to determine their readiness to enter heaven? And who are we to bargain with God on their length of stay in purgatory? Anyway, strictly speaking, none of us sinners can claim that we qualify for entry into the perfect and spotless Kingdom, as the Psalmist says: “If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt; Lord, who would survive?” [Ps 130:3] The fact that anyone is allowed a period of purification in purgatory is purely due to the grace and mercy of God. So who is to complain?
Therefore, when we pray for the souls who have gone before us, we're just like the spectators of a race cheering for the runners and reminding them that their final destination is just around e corner. We’re here to remind them of the abundant love of God for them and His eagerness to welcome them into His Kingdom.
While we're busy cheering for them, let us not forget that we too are running our own race – our journey on earth. And the beauty is that, just as we cheer for the souls in purgatory, the saints in heaven are cheering for us at the same time. These saints are the “many witnesses in a great cloud all around us,” as mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews. Indeed, they are the witnesses of true faith and examples of faithfulness in the Lord. And just as we, in our prayers, urge the faithful departed to let go of all their earthly attachments in order to embrace God completely, these saints too are encouraging us to be free of all sins and everything that prevents us from running this race of earthly life.
“With so many witnesses in a great cloud all around us, we too, then, should throw off everything that weighs us down and the sin that clings so closely, and with perseverance keep running in the race which lies ahead of us.”