It might be tempting to think that November has everything to do with pumpkin spice and getting ready for all-things Black Friday. But The Church has something more to impress upon our hearts – the importance of the end of the Church year. This is the month we remember Jesus Christ’s Second Coming and all those who have died. We even keep a special book in the main narthex called The Book of the Names of the Dead. This practice helps to offer us the opportunity for healing and consolation in the face of grief. It is left open for people to write the names of their deceased loved ones and for others to read the names, remember, and pray for the repose of their souls. Remembering those who have gone before us, “marked with the sign of faith,” helps us better understand and appreciate our faith in the Christ our Risen Lord who conquers sin and death and brings new life to all.
Since we are living at a time so many have forgotten why we believe what we believe, people can question why we even pray for the dead. They believe that once someone has died there is nothing else that can be done for them except share memories or have some kind of a celebration of life. But there is a longstanding tradition in the Catholic Church to pray for the souls of the deceased, which is rooted in Scripture and in the very nature of Heaven. Theologian Nada Mazzei wrote on why we pray for our dead. She reminds us that in Scripture the vision of the New Jerusalem, God’s eternal Kingdom, Rev 21:27 states, “nothing unclean will enter it.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: 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. (CCC1030) St. Paul even affirms this thinking and helps us base our understanding of purgatory: “the work of each person will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person receives a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
Prayers for the dead have been offered for many centuries. The earliest reference in the Bible is found in the second book of Maccabees. The Jewish general, Judas Maccabees led his army to success in a hard fought battle, but some of those who died committed a grave sin against the Lord. Judas knew that these men were people who had died virtuously by courageously defending the law of God. So they immediately offered prayers and sacrifices for these Jewish soldiers who died wearing pagan amulets. This month is dedicated to keeping in prayer the beloved souls in purgatory. Out of love, remember to keep in prayer to our God who saves!
Pax, Fr. Bline