All Souls Day

Nov
02
November 02, 2022
"We will not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that you be not sorrowful, even as others who have no hope." ~1 Thess 4:12

The Church today has the same desire as the Apostle thus expressed to the first Christians. The truth concerning the dead not only proves admirably the union between God’s justice and his goodness; it also inspires a charitable pity which the hardest heart cannot resist, and at the same time offers to the mourners the sweetest consolation. If faith teaches us the existence of a purgatory, where our loved ones may be detained by unexpiated sin, it is also of faith that we are able to assist them; (Council of Trent, Session 25) and theology assures us that their more or less speedy deliverance lies in our power. Let us call to mind a few principles, which throw light on this doctrine. Every sin causes a twofold injury to the sinner: it stains his soul, and renders him liable to punishment. Venial sin, which displeases God, requires a temporal expiation. Mortal sin deforms the soul, and makes the guilty man an abomination to God: its punishment cannot be anything less than eternal banishment, unless the sinner, in this life, prevent the final and irrevocable sentence. But even then the remission of the guilt, though it revokes the sentence of damnation, does not cancel the whole debt. Although an extraordinary overflow of grace upon the prodigal may sometimes, as is always the case with regard to baptism and martyrdom, bury every remnant and vestige of sin in the abyss of divine oblivion; yet it is the ordinary rule that for every fault, satisfaction must be made to God’s justice, either in this world or in the next.

On the other hand, every supernatural act of virtue brings a double profit to the just man: it merits for his soul a fresh degree of grace; and it makes satisfaction for past faults, in exact proportion to the value, in God’s sight, of that labor, privation, or trial accepted, or that voluntary suffering endured, by one of the members of his beloved Son. Now, whereas merit is a personal acquisition and cannot be transferred to others, satisfaction may be vicarious; God is willing to accept it in payment of another’s debt, whether the recipient of the boon be in this world or in the next, provided only that he be united by grace to the mystical Body of our Lord, which is one in charity. This is a consequence of the mystery of the Communion of Saints, as Suarez explains in his beautiful treatise on Suffrages. Appealing to the authority of the greatest and most ancient princes of science, and discussing the objections and restrictions since proposed by others, the illustrious theologian does not hesitate to formulate this conclusion, with regard to the suffering souls in particular: “I believe that this satisfaction of the living for the dead is a matter of simple justice, (‘Esse simpliciter de justitia’) and that it is infallibly accepted with its full value, and according to the intention of him who applies it. Thus, for instance, if the satisfaction I make would, if kept for myself, avail me in strict justice for the remission of four degrees of purgatory, it will remit exactly the same amount to the soul for whom I choose to offer it.” (Suarez, De Suffragiis, Section 6)

We well know how the Church seconds the good-will of her children. By the practice of Indulgences, she places at their charitable disposal the inexhaustible treasure accumulated, from age to age, by the superabundant satisfactions of the Saints, added to those of the Martyrs, and united to those of our blessed Lady and the infinite residue of our Lord’s sufferings. These remissions of punishment she grants to the living by her own direct power; but she nearly always approves of and permits their application to the dead by way of suffrage, that is to say, in the manner in which, as we have seen, each of the faithful may offer to God who accepts it, for another, the suffrage or succor (‘Est enim suffragium, ut sumitur ex D. Thoma et aliis in 4 d. 45. Auxilium quoddam, quad unus fidelis praebet alteri ad obtinendum a Deo remissionem paenae temporalis, vel aliud huiusmodi.’ Suarez, De Suffragiis, in Proaemio.) of his own satisfactions. Such is the doctrine of Suarez, who adds that an Indulgence ceded to the dead loses nothing either of the security or of the value it would have had for ourselves who are still militant. (Suarez, De Indulgentiis, Disput. 53, Section 3)

Now, Indulgences under every form are continually coming in our way. Let us make use of our treasures, and exercise mercy towards the poor suffering souls. Is any condition more pitiable than theirs? So great is their anguish that no distress on earth can approach to it; and withal so nobly endured, that not a murmur breaks the silence of that “river of fire, which in its imperceptible current bears them on little by little to the ocean of Paradise.” (Mgr. Gay, “Christian Life and Virtues: Of Charity towards the Church ii) All heaven cannot help them, for there is no merit to be gained there. God himself, though most merciful, owes it to his justice not to deliver them until they have paid the whole debt that they carried with them beyond the world of trial. The debt was contracted perhaps through our fault, and in our company; and it is to us they turn for help, to us who are still dreaming of nothing but pleasure, while they are burning, and we could so easily shorten their torments! Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you my friends, because the hand of the Lord hath touched me. (Job 19:21)

Whether it be that Purgatory is now more than ever overflowing with the multitudes daily sent thither through the worldliness of the age, or that the last and universal judgment is approaching—the Holy Ghost is no longer satisfied with keeping up the zeal of ancient confraternities devoted to the service of the departed. He raises up new associations, and even religious families, whose one aim is to promote, by every possible means, the deliverance or the solace of the suffering souls. In this kind of redemption of captives there are likewise to be found Christians, who at their own risk offer to take upon themselves the chains of their brethren, by utterly foregoing, for this purpose, not only all their own satisfactions, but even the suffrages which may be offered for them after death: a heroic act of charity which must not be lightly undertaken, but which the Church approves; (Propagated in the 18th C. by the Regular Clerks Theatines, and enriched with spiritual favours by the Sovereign Pontiffs Benedict XIII, Pius VI, and Pius IX.) for it greatly glorifies our Lord, and in return for the risk incurred of a temporary delay of beatitude, merits for its author a greater nearness to God, both by grace here below, and in glory in heaven. If the suffrages of the simple faithful are of such value, of how much more are those of the whole Church, in the solemnity of public prayer, and the oblation of the awful Sacrifice, wherein God himself makes satisfaction to God for every sin? From the very beginning the Church has always prayed for the dead, as did even the Synagogue before her. (2 Machabees 12:46)

As she honored with thanksgiving the anniversaries of her martyred sons, so she celebrated with supplications the memory of her other children, who might not yet be in heaven. In the sacred Mysteries she daily uttered the names of both, for this twofold purpose of praise and prayer. As in each particular church it was impossible to name all the Blessed of the entire world, a common mention was made of them all; and in like manner, after the recommendations peculiar to each place and day, a general commemoration was made of all the dead. Thus, as St. Augustine remarks, those who had no relatives and friends on earth were henceforth not deprived of suffrages; for to make up for their abandonment, they had the tender compassion of the common mother. (AUG. De cura pro mortuis, 4) The Church having always followed the same method with regard to the commemoration of the blessed and that of the departed, it might be expected that the establishment of All Saints’ Feast in the ninth century would soon lead to the solemn Commemoration of All Souls. In 998, according to the Chronicle of Sigebert of Gembloux, (Ad hunc annum.) St. Odilo, Abbot of Cluny, instituted it in all the monasteries under his crosier to be celebrated in perpetuity on the morrow of All Saints’. In certain visions, recorded in his life, (Peter Damian, Jotsald, ii, 13) Odilo and his monks had been denounced by the demons as the most indefatigable helpers of the holy souls, and most formidable to the powers of hell; and this institution was the Saint’s retaliation. The world applauded the decree; Rome adopted it, and it became the law of the whole Latin Church. The Greeks made a general Commemoration of the dead on the eve of our Sexagesima Sunday, which with them is called Apocreos or Carnival, and on which they celebrate the second coming of our Lord. They give the name of “Saturday of all souls” to this day, as well as to the eve of Pentecost, when they again pray solemnly for the departed.

Gueranger, Dom Prosper. The Liturgical Year: Volume XV - Time After Pentecost - Book Six (pp. 30-33). Kindle Edition.