Sunday, November 02, 2008

All Saints and All Souls

This is a confusing year. Normally the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls fall on November 1st and 2nd respectively. However, in England and Wales if a Holy Day of Obligation (like All Saints) falls on a Saturday or a Monday it is transferred to a Sunday. That makes today - which should be All Souls - All Saints, and All Souls has been transferred to tomorrow so that it doesn't get missed out of the calendar altogether.

On All Saints Day we celebrate the Church Triumphant - all those individuals who are already enjoying eternal life in heaven. Some have been officially canonised, that is, their holiness has been recognised as so evident that we can be sure they have reached their ultimate destiniation (in most cases this is confirmed by miraculous healings associated with the intercession of the saint). Most importantly, though, this day is an opportunity to celebrate the multitude of unknown and unsung saints, those who will never be canonised.

On All Souls Day we pray for the Church Suffering - those who have died but whose souls have not yet reached the state of perfection which will allow them to enjoy the vision of God in heaven. I find the Catholic doctrine of purgatory a tremendously consoling one. I know that my sins are forgiven by virtue of Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross, but also that I remain weak and imperfect. Simplistically, I think of purgatory as an opportunity for God to spring-clean my soul after death, clearing out all the dust and debris left behind by my failings.

Traditionally the whole of November is a time during which Catholics remember and pray for the dead, that they will reach the end of this process and enjoy their eternal reward more quickly. As we here on earth - the Church Militant - join our prayers to those of the Saints in Heaven on behalf of the Holy Souls we are reminded that we are all part of the Body of Christ. The curtain that divides heaven and earth seems thinner, and it is no coincidence that at this time of year Death and its minions are mocked - Hallowe'en, or "All Hallows Eve", marks the beginning of this time when we focus on the triumph of Life over Death.

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
May the souls of all the faithful departed,
By the mercy of God, rest in peace.

All the Saints of God, pray for us!

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