For Catholics, the liturgical year is divided up into seasons and feast days. The seasons focus on God’s plan of salvation as revealed in the life of Christ, and the feast days are celebrations of the powerful presence of God in the lives of his witnesses.
We began November with All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2.
From baptism, we are all members of the body of Christ – the Church Militant, or those of us who are still working out our salvation; the Church Triumphant, those who have reached their final destination in heaven; or the Church Suffering, those who are being purified on their way to heaven through purgatory.
Throughout the church year, we celebrate the feast days of specific saints, but All Saints Day is for all the saints in heaven who we may know nothing about, perhaps even our relatives.
Do they need our celebrations?
Saint Bernard said, “The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.”
All Souls Day is about those who have left this life in the state of grace but have not yet reached the perfection necessary to be received into heaven. They must undergo a process of purification which we call purgatory.
God expects those of us who believe in him to be faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures. This faithfulness will help us to reach our potential for happiness in this life, but it requires that we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.
To go a step further, Jesus said we must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. This perfection is only possible with the help of grace that he offers us when we choose to be in an intimate relationship with him.
Our present trials and difficulties can help us make reparation for our sins against God and humanity, if we intentionally unite them with the sufferings of Christ. However, at the end of our life, if we have not rejected God and yet have not reached the state of perfection that God has expected of us, in his mercy he will purify our souls in purgatory.
Purgatory is not a final destination but more like a journey through which some souls undergo on their way to heaven. Purgatory is fundamentally based on how much our loving God wants us to live perfectly united to him for all eternity, even if we haven’t been perfect. For this reason, every day, at every eucharistic liturgy throughout the world, we pray for those who have died. We believe that prayer can assist them in their purification process.
Even though these souls are being purified, they are at peace because they know that their salvation is eminent. Thank God for purgatory.
Deacon Tom Fox is co-director & co-founder of Pilgrim Center of Hope. This column was originally submitted for the San Antonio Express-News “Belief” column in its Faith section. (Updated to final printed version 11/26/2018 12:11pm)