All Saints and All Souls
The Solemnity of All Saints which we celebrate today is a way of honouring all those men, women and children who throughout history have responded to God’s call and are now with Him in everlasting joy in Heaven. The majority are not canonised, but they are saints nevertheless. Some may have their own feast days, but most do not. In fact, the vast majority of them are completely unknown to us, but we are all united in what we call the Communion of Saints. This is because the Church is divided into three parts – the Church Militant which is us here on earth. We say ‘militant’ because we are in a constant struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. Then there is the Church Suffering which is the Holy Souls in Purgatory who are expiating their sins in the cleansing fire. Then there are the blessed in Heaven who are called the Church Triumphant, because they have already attained their glory in Heaven having been purified of all their sins.
All three parts are united in Christ and are called ‘saints’ because they are sanctified by Baptism and therefore can all help each other. This means that as the saints in Heaven love and pray for us and for the souls in Purgatory, so the suffering souls in Purgatory love and pray for us. This is a most beautiful doctrine because in the words of Cardinal Gibbons (1834-1921), “it robs death of its terrors.” There is a great bond that unites earth with Heaven – the soul in the flesh with those souls released from the flesh. Death only destroys the body, but the soul still lives on. But let’s not assume that everyone who dies goes immediately to Heaven. They do not! Most of us die in a state of imperfection and need the prayers of others to be released from Purgatory before entering Heaven. Let us not deny them our help. November is the month of the Holy Souls when we increase our efforts on their behalf, thereby making friends for ourselves on the other side. They in turn will pray for us when we need their help in this life, but especially in the next when we may be suffering in Purgatory atoning for our sins. This is the purpose of the Blessing of Graves and Rosary for the faithful departed at Loughborough Cemetery this afternoon at 3pm. Please join in if you can.
The doctrine of the Communion of Saints is the foundation of devotion to the Faithful Departed. This life is not extinguished by death, but only by mortal sin which makes us like dead limbs, separating us from Christ, the true vine (John 15). The souls dear to us who have died in a state of grace are members of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Catholic Church. Now as in any normal human body, the individual parts don’t have a life of their own. They all help the whole body to function. In the same way, all the members of the Mystical Body, whether journeying here on earth, atoning for sins in Purgatory or among the blessed in Heaven, they should all help one another to promote the good of the entire Body. The blessed in Heaven and the Souls in Purgatory without question do this, but we must do the same. But to do this we must ensure that we are in a state of grace. If we are in mortal sin we extinguish the life of Christ that comes to us through the Mystical Body. We become branches separated from the vine, cut off from the vine, thus causing spiritual death. But our relationship with Christ is always restored by making a good sacramental Confession.
Let us resolve then to be always in a state of grace and to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory every day, so as when, through our help, they are released from Purgatory, we will have great friends and intercessors in Heaven.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC