This year, we would all I think agree, has been one like no other thanks to Covid-19. Only those among us old enough to have had experience of World War II will remember such a time of ongoing catastrophe. Death of course on a grand scale has been a feature of both conflict in Europe and the current Pandemic.
Sadly, because of the Lockdown and other restrictions so many people were limited with regard to how they could arrange the funerals of their loved ones. As a result they lost out on the comfort and support of others that is usual on these occasions. The formal and informal circumstances around the burial or cremation had to change, but the central event remained the same. Someone’s life on this earth had come to an end.
This of course is the one perennial truth – rich or not, successful or not, religious or not, it makes no difference – you will die. It is Life’s greatest question but one which many refuse to face, perhaps as a result of fear. In the words of a pagan Greek poet: ‘There is hope for those who are alive, but those who have died are without hope.’
For Christians it was Jesus who changed that thinking, that culture of despair. By rising from the dead Christ gave hope to the world. Hope, that as he rose from the dead, so we too who believe in him would also rise to a new life with God our creator and redeemer.
The Holy Souls
The month of November is designated by the Church as dedicated to the Holy Souls. During these thirty days we are asked to remember and pray in a special way for those who have died and gone before us.
On the very first day of the month we honour and thank God for all the saints, all those whose lives, words and works point the way to our heavenly homeland. The following day we think of those who are still in Purgatory awaiting their call to eternal happiness. This is a yearly reminder of our belief that by our prayers and sacrifices we can help those who have gone before us and we can hasten their entry into heaven.
All who die in God’ s grace or friendship, but still imperfectly purified are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of Heaven. (CCC1030)
They are not yet ready to see God. This is the traditional teaching of the Church but nowhere is it mentioned the length of time that a soul must spent in Purgatory. The word itself was originally a Latin adjective meaning ‘cleansing’.
Purgatory is not a place in the true sense of the word but rather a condition of existence and a process of purification that removes all sin and imperfection. The idea is that the Souls in purgatory died in the mercy of God which I why they are called Holy Souls. However, because they still had attachment to sin at the time of their death, they must undergo this spiritual purification before they are able to fully love God with their whole heart, mind and soul for all eternity.
Just as we can pray for the burdens of people in this life, we can also offer them for those in the intermediary stage prior to entering heaven.
All Saints and All Hallows
The Celts who lived 2,000 years ago mostly in the area that is now Ireland, England and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and harvest and the beginning of winter. It was a time when the trees shed their leaves, animals went into hibernation and the days shortened and became cold. It was also a time to honour their ancestors, those in the afterlife.
Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain (summer’s end) when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In the wheel of the year representing the cycle of life, death and rebirth Samhain was the time of death.
The word Halloween or Hallowe’en dates to about 1745 and is actually of Christian origin. It means “Saints Evening” and comes from a Scottish term for All Hallows Eve (the evening before All Hallows (holy) Day. Over time the word evolved into Hallowe’en.
Originally, trick or treating began as souling when children would go door-to-door on Halloween with soul cakes, singing and saying prayers for the dead. Over the course of history Halloween’s visible and varied practices have changed.
The feasts of All Hallows, All Saints, and All Souls, are a time for all to reflect on the reality of the cycle of life. We honour and pray for those who have gone before us and take time in the dark days of winter to meditate on the light of Christ and the hope of redemption.
Prayer for the Holy Souls
“O Lord our God, since our departed brothers and sisters believed in the mystery of our resurrection let them share the joys and blessings of the life to come.”