The annual commemoration of All Souls Day naturally turns our attention to the Church’s teaching concerning those who have died. Rooted firmly in our understanding of the Death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, Catholic doctrine concerning death and what has happened to those who have died stands in stark contrast to both secular notions regarding death and the understanding of other Christians.
The Church believes that those who have died in a state of grace (without serious sin on their souls) are able to enjoy the vision of God in Heaven at the time of their deaths. In this particular judgment, which happens at the moment of death, each person receives his eternal retribution. Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longing, the state of supreme and definitive happiness.
Those who die as God’s friends but die imperfectly (with unrepented venial sins on their souls) need to undergo purification after death before they can enter the glory of Heaven. This experience of purgatory assists the soul so that it can most assuredly enter in to God’s Presence. Those in purgatory are assured of salvation in Christ once this purification is finished.
The Church always commends the dead to God’s mercy and offers prayers, especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, on their behalf. As Catholics, unlike some other Christians, we believe that our prayers really do assist those who have died so that they might more rapidly enjoy Heaven with God. In every Mass, and especially on All Souls Day, the Church remembers the dead in the Eucharistic Prayer just after the Consecration. The Church takes her responsibility to pray for the dead – the faithful who have departed – very seriously. By virtue of the communion of saints the Church believes we are all united – the Church in Heaven, the Church on earth and the Church in purgatory – in a real way. The faithful departed rely on our prayers for them.
For this reason, the Mass of Christian Burial and the accompanying funeral rites of the Church are of true importance for the deceased. Funerals do not only offer comfort to those left behind. Primarily they are meant to offer prayers, particularly the perfect prayer that is the Mass, for the welfare of the dead. Simple services in the funeral home or “short cut” funerals can never have the same spiritual value as the Mass, since the Mass is Christ’s own sacrifice for our salvation.
Finally, our responsibility to pray for the dead extends beyond family members and friends who have died. We should pray for the countless souls who have no one to pray for them and for our ancestors in the Faith who are known but to God alone. One day each of us will rely on the prayers of future generations for the happy repose of our souls.
Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.
May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.