Isaiah 25:6-9; 1 Corinthians 15:12-26; Mark 8:27-35 (John 12, 23-26)
On the first of November we celebrated the feast of All Saints and we remembered with joy and gratitude all those who have gone before us and who are now enjoying eternal happiness face to face with God. Today, on the second of November, we are celebrating All Souls’ Day, also known as the “Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.” Praying for the dear departed is an ancient custom among the Christians. In the monasteries in the 7th century there was already the custom of dedicating one day to pray for their departed members and benefactors. In the year 998 St Odilo, the Abbot of Cluny decided to celebrate this day, namely November 2nd , after the feast of All the Saints and Pope Benedict XV made it a celebration with three masses to be said on this day.
All Souls’ Day, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed is based on the theological basis that some of those who have departed from this world have not been perfectly cleansed from venial sin, or have not fully atoned for their past transgression. As such, being temporarily deprived of the beatified vision until such time as they have been completely sanctified in Christ; these departed souls are to remain in Purgatory. To assist them so that they may be freed from Purgatory, we, their spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ, pray that they may receive the reward of the saints.
The Church teaches us that, when we die, most of us are in need of some process of purification. This process has traditionally been called “Purgatory”. Some spiritual writers in the past described “Purgatory” in vivid details. Yet the official teaching of the Church is very circumspect and, beyond speaking of some sort of purifying process, does not speculate as to its nature. It is not helpful then to think of “Purgatory” as a place, rather a process of purification, where in the benevolent God responds to the prayers of many to receive all his beloved children into his heavenly banquet.
On this day we remember our dear departed members. Death is painful and can awaken feelings that are powerful, changing and compelling. The experience of death can be terrible, enveloping the person to imagine the after life, the longing to be with the other and to enter into a new experience. On this day we are faced with the mystery of death and we are reminded of the promise of resurrection and eternal life. Today’s liturgy emphasizes the paschal character OF Christian death and places in relief the resurrection of Christ as the hope of our resurrection and new life. St Paul indeed assures us, as he assured the Thessalonians that we believe that Jesus died and rose again and our dear ones also will rise. So we believe that God will bring with Jesus to himself, all those who have died believing in him. When the body is buried it is mortal and when raised it will be immortal, a spiritual body.
The Scripture readings for today all give rich matter for reflection and touch on the reality of death in general, something we will all have to face some day and for which we should be ready. After all, the Lord will come “like a thief in the night”. We do not want to have the door closed in our face and hear those terrible words: “I do not know you.” The Scripture constantly warns us to be ready to meet our Lord at any time. The readings of today acknowledge the complexities of life. Sometimes, when we experience the loss, we feel the absence of peace, confused and overwhelmed. We await God’s mercy and his compassionate love. At the same time we must remember that the saints are not people who are free from all imperfections. Rather they are those who are outstandingly good in spite of and through their shortcomings. Every saint is also a sinner and it is a sign of sainthood that one is always aware of that.
On this day, as we remember those who have gone before us, we are aware that our future destiny with God depends to a large extent on how seriously we have taken Jesus’ words to our hearts. For those who have put their own chosen way of living before everything, there is the likelihood that in death they lose everything. They hear God saying to them, “Your will be done” but they also hear him say, “I do not know you.” On the other hand, there are those who gave themselves so completely to Jesus and his Way to surrender fully their lives. Prophet Isaiah speaks in terms of a great banquet, something which people who were poor and often malnourished and hungry imagined as the summit of happiness and pleasure. “The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. The First Letter to the Corinthians renews that confidence. Our resurrection is as certain as that of Christ himself. If Christ is not raised, then “our faith has been in vain” and then what happened on Calvary was the end of everything. Without resurrection Jesus would have moved into nothingness and, for all of us, life would have had no meaning.
On All Souls’ Day, we ask God for mercy on those who have died. We pray for an ever deeper and abiding awareness of the steadfast love of God expressed through Jesus Christ. God’s love made known in Jesus Christ is the reason for our hope. Today is a day of solidarity between all Christians. It is a celebration of what we call the “Communion of Saints”, where ‘saints’ signifies all who are baptised in Christ. Our love and sense of duty do not permit us to ignore them. They are all our people some of whom are intimately known to us. They call out to our help and one day we too will need help from others. Let us, then, make the prayer of today’s Mass our own: “God, our creator and redeemer, by your power Christ conquered death and returned to you in glory. May all your people who have gone before us in faith share his victory and enjoy the vision of your glory for ever.” Amen.