HOMILY/REFLECTION FOR THE THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
TOPIC: THE SAINTS IN HEAVEN AND THE SOULS IN PURGATORY
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
All Saints Day/All Souls Day
Message # 481: “At the Hour of Your Death”
1. The Marian Message
a) The Blessed Mother reiterates the teachings about the Church: there is only one Church, but three stages: Church Militant (the Church in the world), Church Suffering (the souls in Purgatory) and the Church Triumphant (the saints in heaven). The saints in heaven pray for us; the souls suffering purification in Purgatory also pray for us (letters e and f).
b) The souls in Purgatory who during their earthly life belonged to the Marian movement, are united with the Blessed Mother and feel her motherly presence, helping them, soothing their pains, and shortening their stay in Purgatory (letter i).
c) To those still living in this world who have devotion to the Blessed Mother, she is close with them and helps them in their sufferings and trials in this world, but especially at the hour of death (letter j). Every time we recite the Rosary, we invoke her motherly presence during that crucial moment: “Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death” (letter k). And in fact, at the hour of our death, she will embrace our souls and bring them to her Son Jesus (letter l).
d) Blessed indeed are those who are close to the Blessed Mother: they live in her company, and they die in the Lord (letter n).
2. All Saints Day and All Souls Day
a) November 1 is the Solemnity of All Saints. The calendar has only 365 days. They cannot contain the names of all the saints. So the Church assigned November 1 as the feast of all these saints who are not known and not officially canonized. Most likely, our departed loved ones are already numbered among them. November 2 is the Commemoration of all the Souls of the Faithful Departed. This is the day of remembering in prayer all the souls of those who have gone before us in death, but who may still be in need of the Church’s prayers of petition for their deliverance from purgatory and entry into heaven. Unlike the ecumenical feast of All Saints (Nov 1), this feast is theologically rooted in the distinctively Catholic doctrine of purgatory, an after-death state of purification from the temporal punishment still due to sins that have already been forgiven, sacramentally (that is, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation) or through a personal act of contrition. The Council of Trent defined the existence of purgatory and insisted that the souls detained there are helped by acts of intercession of the faithful and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass (Decree on Purgatory, 1563).
We are all encouraged to visit the cemetery and pray for the souls in Purgatory. The cemetery could either be the one where your departed loved ones are interred or any other catholic cemetery or a cemetery which is blessed, private or public. Cemetery comes from the Greek “koimeterion” which was translated into Latin “dormitorium” (sleeping place). The Spanish term commonly used is “campo santo”.
The Handbook of Indulgences, no. 13 says: “An indulgence is granted the Christian faithful who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, if only mentally, for the dead. This indulgence is applicable only to the souls in purgatory. This indulgence is a plenary one from November 1 through November 8, and can be gained on each of these days. On the other days of the year this indulgence is a partial one.” Take note: the plenary indulgence “can be gained on each of these days” from November 1 to 8, meaning if you go to the cemetery everyday for eight days, you can gain eight plenary indulgences. And that means you can help eight souls in purgatory to enter heaven. But of course, the regular conditions have to be met: sacramental confession, Holy Communion and prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father. One need not confess everyday; one confession suffices to gain multiple plenary indulgences, as long as he stays in the state of grace.
Furthermore, no. 67 says: “A plenary indulgence which is applicable only to the souls in purgatory is granted the Christian faithful who devoutly visit a church or an oratory on All Souls Day.” When we are able to help many souls go to heaven, we will have more intercessors praying for us. At the same time, we are doing an infinitely valuable spiritual work of mercy.
3. The Souls of the Departed
a) Man is composed of body, soul and spirit. When a man dies, his body corrupts. But according to our Christian faith, it will be raised by Christ on the last day. But the soul does not die. It is only the body that dies. That is why death is not the end of our life. The soul goes on to live in eternity. It has to leave this world and take either of the two destinations: heaven or hell; eternal life or eternal damnation. It is not God’s will that man goes to hell. He wants all men to be saved. But there are those who are condemned to hell, not because God likes it, but because they have willfully rejected God. And God cannot do anything about that because He has to respect the freedom of man. As we always say, “You can force the horse to the river, but you cannot force the horse to drink.” God cannot force a man to go to heaven if he wants to go to hell.
After death, the soul leaves the body. There are souls which are still wandering on earth. They are the restless souls. Such is the case of those who died in accidents, wars and other violent and sudden deaths. This is the reason why we really have to pray for the eternal “repose” or the “rest” of the souls. And sometimes when we feel their presence, we pray for them and sprinkle that place with holy water. These souls need holy water to relieve them of their sufferings. Praying for the departed is one of the spiritual works of mercy that is truly pleasing to God.
The soul either goes to heaven or to hell. When it goes to hell, there is no more chance of getting out. The fire in hell is eternal, and the main cause of the sufferings of the souls in hell is the total and final absence of God. There is no possibility of seeing God anymore. That is hell. The soul that does not go to hell is destined for heaven. Ordinarily a soul cannot go direct to heaven. It has to go through a process or stage of purification so that it will be worthy to face God. When we commit a mortal sin, we go to sacramental confession. The sin is erased through the absolution in the sacrament. But the temporal punishments of sin still remain. They are like the scars or stains of the soul. When a man dies, his soul will not anymore go to hell because his sins have been forgiven. But he has to undergo purification because of these temporal punishments of sins. That is purgatory.
But in God’s abundant mercy, and through the rich deposits of divine graces in the Church, there is a way for the faithful to cleanse his soul while still in this world, so that when he dies, he can be exempt from the fires of purgatory. This is by gaining indulgences. “An indulgence is the remission in the sight of God of the temporal punishment due for sins, the guilt of which has already been forgiven” (can. 992, Code of Canon Law). A plenary indulgence cleanses all temporal punishments; a partial indulgence only partially cleanses them. So, it is possible for a soul to go direct to heaven if he has gained a plenary indulgence for himself. Moreover, he can also apply this indulgence to a soul in purgatory by way of suffrages. One plenary indulgence will send a soul in purgatory to heaven. When that soul reaches heaven, he will definitely intercede before God in behalf of the person who gained for him the plenary indulgence.
When the soul is in hell, it is not possible for it to get out. When a soul is in purgatory, it cannot also leave and go back to the world, unless there is permission from God, due perhaps to some important mission or task for the salvation of people. Ghosts are real souls of the departed, which are either still wandering in this world, or allowed by God to leave purgatory and do some mission in the world. However, the devil can also disguise himself as a ghost. That is why St. Paul urges us to have careful “discernment of the spirits.”
The fire in purgatory is the same fire in hell. But while the souls in hell are violently suffering in eternal fire and they are cursing and angry because they know there is no more way out and no more possibility of seeing God, the souls in purgatory, on the other hand, are patiently enduring the pains of purification because they know that this is only for some time and they are assured of heavenly glory and union with God for eternity. Nevertheless, they are still suffering.
That is why we refer to the as the “poor souls in Purgatory.” They are “poor” in the sense that they are suffering, and secondly, because they cannot do anything more for themselves. They totally rely on the prayers and sacrifices of their loved ones in their behalf. Their suffering is caused mainly by two reasons: first, the pains of purification; and second, the state of being so near God but they still cannot see God because they are not yet worthy and ready.
St. Teresa of Avila (?) used a beautiful image on Purgatory. It is like a poor man who really loves a very beautiful princess. His only desire and happiness is to see her and be with her. But given his state in life, it is an impossible dream. Then early one morning, somebody knocks on his door. He got up from bed and when he looked outside, he was so pleasantly surprised to see that the one knocking on the door was the beautiful princess whom he really loves. He wanted to open the door and embrace her. But he realized he was not ready to see her. So he ran to the bathroom to take a quick shower, brush his teeth, put on his best clothes, comb his hair, put on some perfume and so on. That period of preparing himself is so agonizing: she is already there but he could not face her yet because he needs to cleanse and prepare himself for that encounter. That is the experience of the souls in purgatory. They are almost there in heaven, but they cannot endure the presence of God due to their unworthiness. That is why they willingly undergo the period of purification in Purgatory in order to cleanse themselves and be worthy to face the glory of God.
This is what Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “I would go so far as to say that if there was no purgatory, then we would have to invent it, for who would dare say of himself that he was able to stand directly before God. And yet we don’t want to be, to use an image from Scripture, ‘a pot that turned out wrong,’ that has to be thrown away; we want to be able to be put right. Purgatory basically means that God can put the pieces back together again. That He can cleanse us in such a way that we are able to be with Him and can stand there in the fullness of life. Purgatory strips off from one person what is unbearable and from another the inability to bear certain things, so that in each of them a pure heart is revealed, and we can see that we all belong together in one enormous symphony of being.”
Responsory for the Dead
(Official Prayer of the Church for the Dead, especially during visits to the Cemetery)
Leader: Do not remember my sins, O Lord.
All: When you come to judge the world by fire.
L: Direct my way in your sight, O Lord. – (repeat response)
L: Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let your perpetual light shine upon him (her/them). – (repeat response)
L: Lord, have mercy.A: Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Our Father in heaven…
L: And lead us not into temptation.- But deliver us from evil.
L: From the gates of hell. – Deliver his/her soul, O Lord. L: May he/she/they rest in peace. – Amen.
L: Lord, hear my prayer. – And let my cry come to you. L: The Lord be with you. – And with your spirit.
L: Let us pray. Lord, welcome into your presence your son/daughter, ___, whom you have called from this life. Release him/her from all his/her sins, bless him/her with eternal light and peace, raise him/her up to live forever with all your saints in the glory of the resurrection. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
QUESTIONS FOR SHARING IN THE B.E.C.
1. Ano ang kabuluhan ng pagpunta sa sementeryo tuwing Undas?
2. Ang ibang mga relihiyon at sekta ay hindi naniniwala sa Purgatoryo. Ano ang hindi malinaw sa iyo tungkol sa doktrina ng Purgatoryo?
3. Ano ang mainam na paalala sa mga tao ngayon tungkol sa di-maiiwasang pagdating ng kamatayan at ang pangako ng langit?