LITURGY MATTERS: One with ‘The Church Suffering’

By Michael McKenna, Archdiocesan Master of Ceremonies

Since the 16th century it has been a feature of Catholic piety to assign entire months in the Church’s calendar to a particular devotion. In this regard the Church dedicates the month of November to praying for the suffering faithful in Purgatory – the Holy Souls.

The communion of saints divides the Church into three branches each bound to the other and supernaturally rooted in the mystical body of Christ:

  1. The Church militant: we who in this life and are working out our salvation.
  2. The Church suffering: the Holy souls in purgatory, undergoing final purification.
  3. The Church triumphant: those souls in Heaven in whose intercession we enjoy recourse.

While the souls in purgatory died in a state of God’s grace and friendship, they still have attachment to sin at the time of their death.

As the evangelist John reminds us, they cannot help themselves because for them “the night has come, when no man can work.” (John 9:4) Indeed, while in Purgatory, souls can’t merit any further graces for themselves, they can pray only for us.

So it falls to us, their brothers and sisters in the faith, to relieve their time of separation from God by our prayers, good works, and especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

In Sacramentum Caritatis (32) as in Spe Salvi (44 – 48), Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of the importance of prayers for the dead, so that they may come to the beatific vision of God and, in so helping those who have gone before us to be saved, we will have served well our own personal salvation.

Saint Josemaría Escrivá refers to this mutual exchange of assistance as “excusable selfishness” on our part, exhorting us to remember the souls often in our sacrifices and in our prayers such that we may come to refer to them as our “good friends the souls in purgatory.” 

For Escrivá, the relationship with the holy souls was living, personal and reciprocal. He was convinced that his “good friends” in purgatory were actively supporting him, and he would often ask for their help.

Is this friendship of the Church militant and the Church suffering so impossible to imagine? Do we not believe in eternal life in Christ?

Are the Holy Souls a mere anonymous crowd to us or rather our late acquaintances, relatives, spouses, companions, playmates, and friends.

This November let us turn our attention toward our good friends – the souls in purgatory!

Tags: Liturgy