November is a time to remember the souls of those who have departed this life before us. The Church celebrates the feasts of All Saints Nov. 1 and All Souls Nov. 2, days when we pray for the deceased, a spiritual work of mercy fundamental to our faith.
In Living Our Faith this week, we delve into a deeper understanding of the human soul. We understand that every human being is created with a soul, and our soul and body together form a unique human being. Each human soul is individual and immortal, immediately created by God. The soul does not die with the body; rather it is separated from the body at death. Our Christian hope is that our body and soul will be reunited in the final resurrection.
Because we don’t know exactly who has made it to heaven after death (with the exception of those who have been beatified or canonized), it’s important that Catholics pray for everyone who has died, that they might be soon united with God in His Kingdom.
The Church teaches that purgatory is a time of purification for those who “die in God’s grace and friendship.” According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “after death (the faithful) undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (1030-32). This is why we have prayers for the souls in purgatory — because, quite simply, they cannot pray for themselves.
The tradition of praying for the dead traces back to Sacred Scripture. “Therefore, (Judas Maccabeus) made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Maccabees 12:46). The Church teaches that praying for the dead is intrinsically connected to the three states of the Church: the Church Militant, or the saints on earth; the Church Suffering, or the saints in purgatory; and the Church Triumphant, known as the saints in heaven. In addition to prayers, it is recommended that the we participate in almsgiving, indulgences and works of penance on behalf of the deceased.
Our Christian hope is that our deceased loved ones have gone on to heaven. But we should not halt our thoughts there. We must continue to pray for them, even after death, that they may be purified and may join God in His heavenly kingdom.