Central idea: Purification in this life. Doctrine: The final purification or purgatory. Practical application: Assisting the souls in purgatory.
Central idea: Purification in this life
Reading 1 Wis 3:1-9
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.
- How important it is to die in a state of grace, to be in a relationship of justice or friendship with God! But how can we have confidence about dying in that state unless we strive to be in that relationship all the time?
- Yet to be in this right relationship with God entails some suffering in this life. For the just or righteous—that is, the one who strives to do the will of God—these sufferings are a test that purify and lead to glory.
- The ancient Jewish author of Wisdom understands the modern philosophy of existentialism for he acknowledges that “men” see good persons receiving punishment in this world and then going on to the seeming utter destruction of death. But for the author of Wisdom, that is a foolish view.
- Rather, “the souls of the just are in the hand of God,” greatly blessed, proven worthy to be with God, glorious, ready to judge and rule nations, full of truth and love, and in God’s grace, mercy, and care forever.
- Seen in the light of Catholic doctrine, this reading is also a description of the condition of the “faithful departed” who are in the state of purgatory.
- The faithful departed, who belong to the company of “the souls of the just” are in God’s hands. They are not tormented in purgatory but are at peace and are filled with hope for immortality. From our perspective, what they are experiencing might seem to be punishment, but it is really a purification, like gold being refined of all impurities in a furnace. Soon, they will enjoy all the glory and happiness of the saints.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
R. Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
with your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
- This most familiar and consoling psalm describes life in this world for the just person, for he or she can say, “The LORD is my shepherd.”
- It describes the inner experience of these persons during times of affliction, for the LORD’s “rod and . . . staff . . . give me courage.”
- It describes the care the just person receives as death approaches: “Though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil.”
- It describes life forever in heaven: “I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.”
- That dark valley can also describe the condition of purgatory: “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.”
Reading 2 Rom 6:3-9
Brothers and sisters:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.
For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his,
we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.
We know that our old self was crucified with him,
so that our sinful body might be done away with,
that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.
For a dead person has been absolved from sin.
If, then, we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also live with him.
We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more;
death no longer has power over him.
- Once we resolve to follow Christ, to do the will of God, a fight begins inside us. Our old self demands, complains, whines, cries, gets moody, pleads, tries to make deals, and makes grandiose promises. Standing up to that, the new self suffers and experiences the dying to self which gives rise to eternal life. If we are faithful, this struggle to the death, between the old self in slavery to sin and the new self who lives with Christ, will lead to eternal life with Christ.
- This struggle continues for the souls of the faithful departed in purgatory, when the old self is burned away (to use the image gold being tested in fire).
Gospel Jn 6:37-40
Jesus said to the crowds:
“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me,
and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,
because I came down from heaven not to do my own will
but the will of the one who sent me.
And this is the will of the one who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,
but that I should raise it on the last day.
For this is the will of my Father,
that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him
may have eternal life,
and I shall raise him on the last day.”
- Our Lord here declares that God the Father gives to God the Son everyone who does something: comes to him, sees him, believes in him. Christ promises “I will not reject anyone who comes to me.”
- God the Father gives the believer to God the Son when the believer believes in the Son. This belief is the gift of faith that God gives to the believer and the believer responses with a free “yes.”
- This giving means eternal life.
- On this day, we commend to God the souls of all the faithful departed, that is, every follower of Christ who has died but who does not yet see God face to face due to not yet being ready for that vision. Such persons are being purified so that they are ready for that vision.
- We also pray for every person who has ever died, that they may be faithful departed, too: that in some way they, too, have been given to Christ by God the Father and have come to him and are not rejected by him.
Doctrine: The final purification or purgatory
- The central Catholic teaching on purgatory is this: “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” (CCC 1030). As we have seen, Sacred Scripture refers to this as “a cleansing fire” (CCC 1031).
- Sin has what the Catechism calls a double consequence, which comes not from some vengeance God angrily inflicts but rather from the nature of sin (CCC 1472). These consequences are eternal punishment and temporal punishment.
- Eternal punishment is the privation of communion with God due to grave sin. It “makes us incapable of eternal life.” (CCC 1472)
- Temporal punishment is a purification which frees one from the unhealthy attachment to creatures, which is the basis of every sin, even venial ones. This purification takes place either in this life or “after death in the state called Purgatory” (CCC 1472).
- After Baptism, the forgiveness of moral sin and restoration of communion with God comes through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which remits “the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains.” The person still needs to be healed of whatever induced the sin in the first place.
- We can undergo this purifying temporal punishment by “patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death,” accepting this purification from sin “as a grace” (CCC 1473).
- In addition, we can “strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the ‘old man’ and to put on the ‘new man’” (CCC 1473).
- Because of the real communion that exists among the members of Christ’s mystical body, we can assist the souls in Purgatory (CCC 1474-1477).
Practical application: Assisting the souls in purgatory
- “From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.” (CCC 1032)
- Thus, by attending this Mass and joining in the Church’s prayers, we are helping the faithful departed.
- Many people perform “suffrages” for the souls in purgatory during the month of November. This might mean offering one’s daily attendance at Mass, and one’s reception of Holy Communion, and reciting the Rosary or some other prayers for the souls in purgatory or some specific faithful departed, such as family members.
- Almsgiving and other works of penance also can assist those souls.
- One can also obtain indulgences for them. “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” This indulgence is “partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.” (CCC 1471).
- For a brief theology of indulgences, here is a link to an excellent resource.