All Souls: "It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead"
By Bishop Robert W. Finn
Kansas City-St. Joseph
November begins with two great liturgical observances: the Solemnity of All Saints on Nov. 1, and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed - also called "All Souls" - on Nov. 2. The celebration of Holy Mass is particularly meaningful on these days which remind us of the Communion of Saints to which we belong with those who have gone before us in faith.
Having grown up in a parish named "All Souls," this day has always had a special meaning for me. Not only were we off school on All Souls day because it was our "feast day," but we were encouraged to go to church and make a visit before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and offer prayers for the souls in purgatory.
In the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," the church clearly affirms her belief that "All who die in God's grace and 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" (No. 1030). The church gives the name "purgatory" to this work of purgation or purification, and urges us to pray for the dead, and to do good works (almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance) for their eternal well-being (Nos. 1031-1032).
A special plenary indulgence is granted by the church, applicable to the souls in purgatory, when the Christian faithful devoutly visit a church or an oratory on All Souls Day, and offer some prayers for the faithful departed, minimally the Our Father and the Creed. The traditional prayers I was taught at an early age were the recitation of six Our Fathers, Hail Mary's and Glory Be's. I still make an All Souls Day visit each year for these intentions.
The plenary indulgence provides the remission of all temporal punishment due to sin, and assists to ready the person to enter into heaven. The "conditions" that must be met are: That the person making this prayerful visit to gain the indulgence for the poor souls should go to sacramental confession within several days preceding or following their visit and prayers; that they receive Holy Communion worthily, and offer some prayer for the pope's intentions.
Having recently re-read the pope's "Apostolic Constitution on the Doctrine of Indulgences," I have noted that the ordinary (the bishop) of the diocese may extend the opportunity for the All Souls day indulgence such that it can be gained either on All Souls day or on the preceding or following Sunday, or on the Solemnity of All Saints. I gladly extend this privilege to the faithful within the churches and oratories of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, so that more may take advantage of this grace of interceding on behalf of our brothers and sisters who have died in Christ.
Though it may seem "quaint" or even archaic to some, the notion of the indulgence is a meaningful expression of the doctrine of grace and merit, and bears testimony to the power of our prayers for one another, even beyond this life. It also expresses the pastoral solicitude of the vicar of Christ to "bind and loose" (cf. Matthew 16:19) as an expression of God's mercy.
The greatest and most powerful prayer we can offer for the eternal salvation of those who have died is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Here the saving gift of Jesus Christ, dying and rising, is made present and its fruits or benefits are applied on behalf of the faithful.
The plenary indulgence proper to All Souls day is a very special moment in the church's liturgical calendar for us to remember those who have gone before us. Let us remember that "to pray for the dead is a holy and wholesome thought, that they may be loosed from their sins" (2 Maccabees 12:46). Remember them every day before the Lord.