Sunday, November 02, 2008

All Souls Day in Texas

At my parish, we had a very fine liturgy for All Souls Day, commemorated on a Sunday this year, complete with black and gold vestments (including the maniple)! Here are a couple photos (posted with permission):

The homily was also a very good exposition on the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory and the importance of praying for the dead, a practice that is both apostolic and ancient. One of my favorite articulations of the teaching is from Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI), book nine of the series on Dogmatic Theology. In it, our present pope describes purgatory as a process of purification that is fundamentally Christological:
Purgatory is not, as Tertullian thought, some kind of supra-worldly concentration camp where one is forced to undergo punishments in a more or less arbitrary fashion. Rather it is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God, and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints. Simply to look at people with any degree of realism at all is to grasp the necessity of such a process. It does not replace grace by works, but allows the former to achieve its full victory precisely as grace. What actually saves is the full assent of faith. But in most of us, that basic option is buried under a great deal of wood, hay and straw. Only with difficulty can it peer out from behind the latticework of an egoism we are powerless to pull down with our own hands. Man is the recipient of the divine mercy, yet this does not exonerate him from the need to be transformed. Encounter with the Lord is this transformation. It is the fire that burns away our dross and re-forms us to be vessels of eternal joy.
And, of course, one of the best medieval and highly devotional articulations of purgatory, and my personal favorite, is St. Catherine of Genoa's Treatise on Purgatory. Here is an excerpt:
When with its inner sight the soul sees itself drawn by God with such loving fire, then it is melted by the heat of the glowing love for God, its most dear Lord, which it feels overflowing it. And it sees by the divine light that God does not cease from drawing it, nor from leading it, lovingly and with much care and unfailing foresight, to its full perfection, doing this of His pure love. But the soul, being hindered by sin, cannot go whither God draws it; it cannot follow the uniting look with which He would draw it to Himself. Again the soul perceives the grievousness of being held back from seeing the divine light; the soul's instinct too, being drawn by that uniting look, craves to be unhindered. I say that it is the sight of these things which begets in the souls the pain they feel in Purgatory. Not that they make account of their pain; most great though it be, they deem it a far less evil than to find themselves going against the will of God, whom they clearly see to be on fire with extreme and pure love for them.
The point, of course, is that God is both just and merciful. As with our works, our purification is first and foremost a work of God's grace in us. I struggled with this intensely before I entered the Catechumenate. And then, as I reflected on all I had been taught about the Church as Christ's Body, and our unity in Him through baptism, and His conquering of death, it hit me. We exist in a spiritual communion with those who have preceded us in death into new life, which includes not only those who now adore God in Heaven, but those who, having died in God's grace, are being prepared in God's Holy Fire for that awesome experience.

It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead... (2 Maccabees 12:46)

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