Fallen asleep in the hope of the Resurrection - All Soul's Day 2017

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We have commenced the month of November. In our Catholic tradition we turn our attention towards the final things: death, heaven, hell and purgatory. November is the month of the Holy Souls. Not only today – All Souls’ Day – but throughout this month, we remember and pray for the Holy Souls.

In our minds we naturally remember our own loved ones – our deceased relatives and friends. They are in our consciousness in a particular way. Our memories of them come before our minds. We picture them in our imagination. Our thoughts are for them and our prayers are directed for them. We have Masses said for the repose of their souls.

The Church invites us to remember all the faithful departed. Our prayers – as members of the Church – ascend for all those in purgatory. We the Church on earth still in pilgrimage intercede for those who have died and await final glory – the souls in purgatory. At every Mass we pray, as we say in the Second Eucharistic prayer, “Our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection”.

The custom of remembering the faithful departed has been an element of Catholic faith from the beginning. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "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." This is what prompts our prayer for them.

We know from our early teaching about the faith that the Church calls this purification process purgatory. Pope Gregory the Great taught:
"As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come." (see CCC#1031)

It is fitting that our commemoration of All Souls’ occurs immediately after our celebration yesterday of the Feast of All Saints. We pray today in the hope of heavenly glory that awaits all who have lived their lives in the hope of the resurrection.

It is good for us on this Mass for All Souls’ Day to think of heaven and we pray for our deceased relatives and friends, and all the faithful departed, that they may experience heavenly glory. We celebrate All Souls in the light of the Feast of All Saints.

On this day there is also a sober reminder of the reality of death. We are here at a cemetery. The headstones, the vaults, remind us of those who have died. Their earthly pilgrimage is ended.

When we consider death we do so from the attitude of faith, our Catholic faith. We know that death and life are central to our faith. At every Mass when the priest invites us to announce the mystery of faith we say: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection.” We proclaim both death and resurrection. This is the central Christian mystery.

For the Christian, death gives meaning to life. The ancient fathers of the faith urged us to keep the moment of our death before our eyes. Contemplating death enables us to have wisdom and insight into how we should live our lives.

The Christian approaches death not desperately clinging to the last vestiges of life, but as a transition from a mortal existence on earth to entry into communion with God in heaven. It is a letting go of the imperfect to move to the perfect.

St Paul descriptively captures this in his second letter to the Corinthians: “If the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, not made with human hands, eternal in the heavens.”

This Mass of the Commemoration of All Souls takes us beyond our daily concerns to look at the full vision of reality. To think of death and to contemplate heaven brings a true perspective to daily life. It nourishes our hope.

Let us take a moment during this Mass to commend to the love and mercy of God the faithful departed who have been part of our lives. Let us also lift our prayer as a member of the Church here on earth and pray for all the souls in purgatory.

May the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace and rise on the Last Day to heavenly glory.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Thursday, 2 November 2017