All Souls Day – One key to a clean heart – The Beginning of Memento Mori
Today, we engage in a practice that St. John Chrysostom reported had been ordered by the Apostles: praying for the dead. The feast of All Souls has a particular ring to each person though — if yesterday’s feast of All Saints failed to remind you of your final end and where you ought to strive to be, today is here to remind you that someday it will be your soul in the pile of names prayed for today. Today is the beginning of the season of the year when the Church emphasizes to you that you are to remember your final end. You, me, and everyone else who reads this will die, face judgment, and be admitted to Heaven or Hell. It’s that first part — that we all die due to original sin, that everyone forgets — or buries. But remembering your death is a key to a clean heart. Eventually, you will face the Just Judge. Everyone else who has already died already has. By praying for them, you remember your own appointment to be there someday, too.
Today is our day to pray for those who already ran their race, but aren’t able to enter Heaven but have not selected Hell for themselves. Today is the day to pray for those in purgatory. Purgatory is that place contested by all the inane well wishing today, but thank God for Purgatory! Without it, there’d be no chance for those who had failed to expiate the sins they committed. Reason also teaches that there must be a purgatory. We know, for instance, that nothing defiled can enter heaven (Apoc. 11:27) ; yet there is many a man not so wicked as to be lost forever ; and if he can enter neither heaven nor hell there must be a third place where he can be purified.
The idea of purgatory, as a place to be purified after death, was common among the rational nations before the coming of Christ. The Egyptians believed in the transmigration of souls into animals. The Greeks related the story of Prometheus, condemned to be bound to a rock and his liver gnawed by a vulture, because he stole fire from heaven. The Jews had the same belief, for they offered sacrifice for the dead, as we saw in the case of Judas Machabeus.
We’ll talk more on purgatory in the month of November, but some passing quotes on its reality. The early Christians were accustomed to pray for the dead during the holy sacrifice of the Mass. St. Augustine relates that his mother St. Monica, on her death-bed, said to him and his brother: “Bury me where you will ; only, I pray you, think of me always at God’s altar.” St. John Chrysostom declares that the Christians from the very beginning prayed during Mass for the dead by order of the apostles. St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes : ” It is of great service to pray for the dead when the holy sacrifice is being offered.” Hence the oldest Mass-books contain prayers for the dead.
Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew 5:26 compares purgatory to a prison: “Amen, I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing.” And St. Paul adds that many shall be saved, yet so as by fire (1 Cor. 3:15). The practice of the Church reminds us of purgatory at many particular points: the prayer for the dead said in every Mass (the Memento after the Consecration) ; the Masses for the dead, in particular those on All Souls Day, on the day of death and burial, and on anniversaries; the passing-bell (which calls upon us to pray for the departed), and the solemnities on All Souls Day, which were first introduced in 998 by the abbot Odilo of Cluny, and later extended by the Popes to the universal Church. St. John Chrysostom reminds us that “the practices of Christians are not meant for mere show, but that they are ordained by the Holy Spirit.” The bishops of the Church at Florence (1439), and Trent (1445-1463) expressly defined that there is a purgatory.
Apart from praying for the dead at Mass today, what else can you do for them?
“Not by weeping,” says St. John Chrysostom, “but by prayer and almsgiving are the dead relieved.” The holy souls cannot help themselves, since they can no longer do good works to satisfy for their sins. After death “the night cometh when no man can work ” (John 9:4). Hence the poor souls must pay off their debt by enduring the pains which God has laid upon them. Yet we on earth can help to diminish their pains by Masses, by prayer and almsgiving, and other works of piety (Council of Lyons ii 1274).
Most importantly, and today is reminder for us, the relatives of the departed are bound to help them. You, me, and everyone else is responsible to help those who died before them.
To them apply the words of Holy Writ: “Have pity on me, at least you my friends, because the hand of the Lord hath touched me” (Job 19:21). God sometimes reveals the unhappy state of the dead to their relatives. In the year 202, St. Perpetua saw in a dream her young brother imprisoned in a dark place, all covered with dirt, and parched with thirst. She began to offer up fervent prayer for him, and soon after he appeared again to her but this time beautiful and happy.
Pray for the dead today! Pray for the dead in your family! They’re counting on you!
For ourselves, though, remembering death will be upon us as well, because Prayer for the dead is of great benefit to ourselves, for it is a work of mercy.
“One Mass devoutly heard during life,” says St. Anselm, “is of more value than a great sum left for the celebration of a hundred Masses after death.”
“God values more a little voluntary penance done in this life than a severe and involuntary satisfaction in the next.” said St. Bonaventure.
So attend a Mass well today, and do your acts of Mercy!
This article, All Souls Day – One key to a clean heart – The Beginning of Memento Mori is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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