All Souls’ Day

November 2

Today is the feast of All Souls’ Day.

Instructions for All Souls’ Day
by Leonard Goffine, 1871


What is All Souls’ day?

It is the day set apart by the Catholic Church for the special devout commemoration of those of its members, who have departed this life in the grace and friendship of God, for whom we pray, that they may soon be released by God from the prison of purgatory.

What is purgatory?

Purgatory is that place in which the souls of the deceased faithful, who though dying in the grace of God, are yet burdened with some small sins not yet atoned for, suffer temporal punishment, and become purified from all sin. It is called the place of purification or purgatory, because in it those souls, which are not perfectly unsullied, are purified by fire as gold in the furnace. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: And the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he had built thereupon, he shall receive a reward; if any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire. (i. Cor.iii.23.) “And when St. Paul,” says St. Ambrose (Serm. 20. in Ps. cxviii.), “says, yet so as by fire, he shows that such a man indeed becomes happy, having suffered the punishment of fire, having been cleansed by the blessed fire, but not being, like the wicked, continually tormented in eternal fire.” St. Paul’s words, then, can only be understood to refer to the fire of purification, as the infallible Church has always explained them.

Are the heretics right in denying, that there is such a place of purification as purgatory?

By no means, for by such denial they oppose the holy Scriptures, tradition, and reason. The holy Scriptures teach, that there is a purgatory: it is related in the Second Book of the Machabees, that Judas Machabeus sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem, to be used in the temple to obtain prayers for those who fell in battle, for he believed it: a good and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins. But for what dead shall we pray? Those in heaven do not require our prayers; to those in hell they are of no avail; we must then pray for those who are in the place of purification. Christ speaks of a prison in the future life, from which no man comes out until he has paid the last farthing. (Matt. v. 25, 26.) This prison cannot be hell, because from hell there is never any release; it must be, then, a place of purification. Again Christ speaks of sin which shall be forgiven neither in this world nor in the next (Matt. xii. 32.), from which it follows, there is remittance of some sins in the next world; but this can be neither in heaven nor in hell, consequently in purgatory.

As the Consistory of Trent says (Sess. 6. c. 30.), the Church has always taught, according to the old tradition of the fathers, in all her councils, that there is a purgatory, and all centuries show proofs of the continual belief of all true Christians in a purgatory. Finally, man’s unblinded reason must accept a purgatory; for how many depart this earth before having accomplished the great work of their own purification? They cannot enter heaven; for St. John tells us: There shall not enter into it any thing defiled. (Apoc. xxi. 27.) The simple separation of the soul from the body does not make the sinful soul pure, and yet God cannot reject them as the hardened sinners in hell; there must then be a middle place, a purgatory, where those who have departed not free from stain, must be purified. See how the doctrine of the Church, reason, and the holy Scriptures all agree, and do not let yourself be led away by false arguments from those who not only believe in no purgatory, but even in no hell, so that they may sin with so much more impunity.

What, how much, and for how long must we suffer in purgatory?

Concerning this the Church has made no decision, though much has been written by the fathers of the Church on the subject. Concerning the severity of the punishment in purgatory, St. Augustine writes: “This fire is more painful than any that man can suffer in this life.” This should urge us to continual sanctification and atonement, so that we may escape the fearful judgment of God.

How can we aid the suffering souls in purgatory?

Of this St. Augustine writes: “It is not to be doubted, that we can aid the souls of the departed by the prayers of the Church, by the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and by the alms which we offer for them.” The Church has always taught, that prayers for the faithful departed are useful and good, and she has always offered Masses for them.

What should urge us to aid the suffering souls in purgatory?

1. The consideration of the belief of the Church in the communion of saints, by which all the members of the Church upon earth, in heaven, and in purgatory are joined together by the bonds of love, like the members of one body, and as the healthy members of a body sympathize with the suffering members, seeking to aid them, so should we assist our suffering brothers in purgatory. 2. The remembrance that it is God’s will, that we should practise charity towards one another, and that fearful judgments are threatened those who show no charity to a brother in need, together with the recollection of God’s love which desires, that all men should be happy in heaven. 3. We should be urged to it by love for ourselves, for if we should be condemned to the pains of purification, we would assuredly desire our living brothers to pray for us and perform good works for our sake, while the souls who through our prayers have perhaps found redemption, will not fail to reward our aid by interceding for us.

Can we aid the souls in purgatory by gaining indulgences?

Yes, for as indulgences, as explained in the Instruction for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, are a complete or a partial remittance of the temporal punishment due to sin, bestowed by the Church to penitent sinners from the treasury of the merits of Christ and His saints. If we gain such a remittance, we can apply it to the souls in purgatory. But it is to be remembered, that such an indulgence can be transferred only to one soul.

For which souls should we pray?

We should certainly, especially on this day, offer prayers and good works for all the faithful departed, and since we are more under obligation to some, some are more pleasing to God, some need assistance more, some deserve it more than others, we should strive to pray most earnestly for our parents, relations, friends, and benefactors; for those who are most acceptable to God; for those who have suffered the longest, or who have the longest yet to suffer; for those who are most painfully tormented; for those who are the most forsaken; for those who are nearest redemption; for those who are suffering on account of us; for those who hope in our prayers; for those who during life have injured us, or been injured by us; for our spiritual brothers and sisters.

When and by which means was this yearly commemoration of the departed introduced into the Church?

The precise time of its introduction cannot be told. Tertullian (A. D. 160) writes, that the early Christians held a yearly commemoration of the faithful departed. Towards the end of the tenth century St. Odilo, Abbot of the Benedictines at Cluny, directed that the yearly commemoration of the faithful departed, should be observed on the Second of November with prayers, alms, and the Sacrifice of the Mass, which time and manner of celebration spread through various dioceses, and was officially, confirmed by Pope John XIX. And this day was appointed, that, having the day previously rejoiced at the glory of the saints in heaven, we might on this day most properly pray for those who are yet doing penance for their sins and sigh in purgatory for their redemption.

The Introit of this day’s Mass as for all Masses of the deads reads: Grant them eternal rest, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine on them. (Ps. lxiv.) A hymn becometh thee O God, in Sion; and a vow shall be paid to thee in Jerusalem. O hear my prayer: all flesh shall come to thee. Grant them, &c.

PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful, give to the souls of Thy servants departed the remission of their sins: that through the help of pious supplications, they may obtain the pardon they have always desired. Who livest.

The Epistle and Gospel of this day speak of the resurrection of all men and of the judgment, when every one accordingly as he has lived, sinful and impenitent, or pure and innocent, will receive an eternally miserable or an eternally happy life. Purgatory will then end and there will be only heaven and hell. It remains with us to choose by our life, which of these two we shall possess.

At the Offertory of the Mass, the priest prays: Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory, deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the flames of hell, and from the deep pit. Deliver them from the lion’s mouth, lest hell swallow them, lest they fall into darkness: and let the standard hearer, St. Michael, bring them into the holy light: which thou promisedst of old to Abraham and his posterity. We offer thee, O Lord, a sacrifice of praise and prayers: accept them in behalf of the souls we commemorate this day: and let them pass from death to life.

V. From the gates of hell,

R. Deliver their souls, O Lord.

V. Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord,

R. And let perpetual light shine upon them.

V. May they rest in peace,

R. Amen.

V. May the souls of all the faithful departed by the mercy of God rest in peace,

R. Amen.

[We may profitably and devoutly repeat this versicle as often as we pass a graveyard.]  (3)

All Souls Day

by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

“When shall I come and appear before the face of God?”–Psalms xli, 3.

On the Feast of All Souls, and whenever we are reminded of Purgatory, we can not help thinking of the dreadful pains which the souls in Purgatory have to suffer, in order to be purified from every stain of sin; of the excruciating torments they have to undergo for their faults and imperfections, and how thoroughly they have to atone for the least offenses committed against the infinite holiness and justice of God.

It is but just, therefore, that we should condole with them, and do all that we can to deliver them from the flames of Purgatory, or, at least, to soothe their pains. Sufferings, however, are not the only cause which renders the state of the poor souls deplorable in our eyes, and moves us to commiseration. There is yet another reason, which, though it occurs less frequently to our minds, yet, if duly considered, will prove a powerful incentive to charitable exertion in behalf of the souls of our departed brethren. I allude to their ardent yearning for God, and their sincere desire of being united with Him forever in heaven; a desire, which as long as it is not satisfied, will be no less painful to them than the keenest flames of their place of torture. We should, then, with the same eagerness with which we try to deliver the poor souls from the pain of fire, endeavor to obtain for them the accomplishment of their ardent longing to be united with their heavenly Spouse. I say: all that can increase the pain of desire and eager yearning in our hearts, makes the longing of the poor souls after God and heaven immeasurably great and tormenting.

Let us now reflect on this, and endeavor, if possible, to open for them today the gates of their heavenly home.

O Mary, Mother of mercy, obtain for us the grace to hasten to the relief of thy suffering children in Purgatory, and to offer them, even this day, to thy maternal embrace! I address you, dear Christians, in the name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!

Theologians rightly maintain that the pain of the damned in hell is a twofold one–namely, that of fire and that of loss of the beatific vision or contemplation of the unveiled splendor of the Divinity and the other delights of heaven. This last pain torments the damned still more, increases their sorrow and despair to a higher degree than all the suffering which they undergo in the expiating flames. Now, in like manner is the agony of the souls in Purgatory twofold–namely: the pain of the purifying flames; and of the delay in beholding God and enjoying the other pleasures that await them in heaven. To comprehend this more clearly, we need but consider the pain which an ardent longing for that which is most dear to us produces in our hearts, as long as it is withheld from us, and then compare our state with that of the poor afflicted souls.

The first source or cause of a desire to be delivered from any state in life is, when that state is connected with great embarrassment and afflictions. Hence it is that the sick long so eagerly for the presence of the physician and for the medicine that will cure them; in like manner the starving long for bread and nourishment; the thirsty, for water; the poor, for the sentence of the judge, that will declare them heirs to riches, and save them from destitution. So also does the wayfarer upon the billows of the stormy ocean sigh for the port, yearn to reach the place where a happy future awaits him; and so does the prisoner in his dreary cell anxiously expect the hour of his delivery. How great, therefore, must not be the desire of the poor souls to be ransomed from Purgatory.

The fire of Purgatory, as the doctors of the Church declare, is as intense as that of the abode of hell; with this difference, that it has an end. Yea! it may be that today a soul in Purgatory is undergoing more agony, more excruciating suffering than a damned soul, which is tormented in hell for a few mortal sins; while the poor soul in Purgatory must satisfy for millions of venial sins.

All the pains which afflict the sick upon earth, added to all that the martyrs have ever suffered, can not be compared with those of purgatory, so great is the punishment of those poor souls. We read, how once a sick person who was very impatient in his sufferings, exclaimed: “O God, take me from this world! “Thereupon the Guardian Angel appeared to him, and told him to remember that, by patiently bearing his afflictions upon his sick-bed, he could satisfy for his sins and shorten his Purgatory. But the sick man replied that he chose rather to satisfy for his sins in Purgatory. The poor sufferer died; and, behold, his Guardian Angel appeared to him again, and asked him if he did not repent of the choice he had made of satisfying for his sins in Purgatory by tortures rather than upon earth by afflictions? Thereupon the poor soul asked of the Angel: ” How many years am I now here in these terrible flames?” The Angel replied: ” How many years? Thy body upon earth is not yet buried; nay, it is not yet cold, and still thou believest already thou art here for many years!” Oh, how that soul lamented upon hearing this. Great indeed was its grief for not having chosen patiently to undergo upon earth the sufferings of sickness, and thereby shorten its Purgatory.

In that abode of sorrow the departed souls hunger after the possession of God, and with so famishing a desire that nothing on earth can be compared with it. They thirst after the fountain of eternal life with that thirst which knows no comparison in this world. They suffer; poor and destitute of all worldly goods. Yea! they are even deprived of all those consolations which at times lessen our desires, and afford us moments of repose. Here upon earth, though we long and sigh ever so much after a thing, still we can sleep; and the pains produced by our heart’s desires in our waking moments leave us, we feel them no longer. We can engage ourselves in other occupations; other cares may distract our minds. We may, at times, enjoy various pleasures, and partake of the good things of this life. Now all these things remove, or, at least, soothe the pain and care of our desires. Not so, however, is the condition of these distressed souls. They have no refreshing slumber; they are incessantly awake; they have no occupation; they can not indulge in other cares, in other distractions. They are wholly and continually absorbed with the burning desire of being liberated from their intense misery.

Again, upon earth, persons who anxiously seek another abode or another state of life, often know not whether, perhaps, they may not fall into a more wretched condition. How many have forsaken the shores of Europe, with the bright hope of a better future awaiting them in America? All has been disappointment! They have repented a thousand times of having deserted their native country. Now, does this disappointment await the souls of Purgatory upon their deliverance? Ah! by no means. They know too well that when they are released heaven will be their home. Once there, no more pains, no more fire for them; but the enjoyment of an everlasting bliss, which no eye hath seen, nor ear heard; nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive. Such will be their future happy state. Oh, how great is their desire to be already there.

Another circumstance which especially intensifies hope in the breast of man, is intercourse, union with those who are near and dear to him. How many, indeed, have bid a last farewell to Europe, where they would have prospered; but oh, then there are awaiting them in another land their beloved ones,–those who are so dear, and in whose midst they long to be! Oh, what a great source of desire is not this, for the poor souls in Purgatory to go to Heaven!

In heaven they shall find again those whom they loved and cherished upon earth, but who have already preceded them on the way to the heavenly mansion. There with their friends shall they share forever untold bliss and glory. Not only will they possess this happiness, but they will, moreover, partake of the glory, blessedness, and love of all the angels and saints. Yea, even Jesus and Mary will share their blessedness with the now happy souls. There is still another feature, another circumstance which presents itself in the condition of the poor souls in Purgatory. I mean the irresistible force or tendency with which they are drawn towards God; the intense longing after Him, their last aim and end.

So long as man is burdened upon earth with his mortal body and its appetites, so long will he not feel this attraction with such intensity. But immediately upon his soul’s separation from its mortal frame does it, as the image of God, experience this incomprehensible desire for its Creator and aim.

Like the balloon that rises aloft as soon as the cords are detached, and rapidly soars higher and higher; just so the soul which leaves this world in the grace of God mounts upward with inconceivable rapidity towards God; and the more pure and spotless she is, the greater is its intensity. Hence it was that David, filled with an ardent longing after God, sighs aloud: “When, when, O Lord, shall I appear in Thy presence? ” Oh, with what intense anxiety and longing is not a poor soul in Purgatory consumed, to behold the splendor of its Lord and Creator!

But also with what marks of Gratitude does not every soul whom we have assisted to enter heaven pray for us upon its entrance. Therefore, let us hasten to the relief of the poor suffering souls in Purgatory. Let us help them to the best of our power, so that they may supplicate for us before the throne of the Most High; that they may remember us when we too shall one day be afflicted in that prison-house of suffering, and may procure for us a speedy release and an early enjoyment of a blissful eternity. Amen! (4)

IMAGE: All Souls’ Day; artist: Jakub (or Jakob) Schikaneder, circa 1888

Research by REGINA Staff


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