All Souls Day and All Saints Day are two important days on our Catholic calendar, and both illustrate foundational elements of our faith.
Each year, on Nov. 1, as we celebrate All Saints Day, children are excited to dress up as the different saints. One example is the donning of feathers and rustic leather wear, in memory of courageous little St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 21, 2012.
As we honor the saints and seek to imitate them, we also honor God with our whole heart and soul. We need the example of the saints, who have carried Christ’s cross before us, just as a newborn child needs the help and wisdom of its mother.
The saints have carried us inestimably far along the path of salvation. Many Catholics may never gain eternal life without the graces won by their red and white martyrdoms. Let us pay our saints due honor by decorating our houses and dressing up to celebrate their presence among us. Life is too short to ignore our most loyal friends.
On Nov. 2, All Souls Day, Catholics traditionally visit cemeteries to attend a solemn memorial Mass, arrange beautiful flowers on a loved one’s grave, or pray the Holy Rosary for poor souls in purgatory.
Some of us may wonder, “What is purgatory? Why do we honor the dead and pray for them, anyway?”
“The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different than the punishment of the damned,” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1031). The Church formulated her doctrine on purgatory at the Councils of Florence and Trent, and in reference to Scriptural texts which speak of a “cleansing fire,” such as 1 Cor 3:15 and 1 Peter 1:7.
Understanding that purgatory truly exists, we easily conclude that there are souls who are there right now. We then need to help these souls through this purification process – especially if they are our loved ones!
This is how the Old Testament character Judas Maccabeus felt: “Therefore (Judas) made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin,” (2 Macc. 12:46).
The Catechism supports this clearly: “From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may obtain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead” (CCC 1032).
Let us hold the dead close to our hearts and not forget about them. They are helplessly waiting for us to have compassion on them and pray for them this All Souls Day, and every day.