“An Angel Frees the Souls of Purgatory” by Ludovico Carracci (c. 1610)

Christians have always prayerfully remembered the faithful departed who have “fallen asleep in Christ.” In an act of mercy, Christians have prayed for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins and come to share in the heavenly glory of Christ.

In modern times, many Catholics have forgotten the practice of praying for the faithful departed. Many prefer to imagine their beloved friends and family members are already present in heaven with God, the angels and saints. This forgetfulness overlooks the great mercy of God who has established the state of purification (“purgatory”) in which the holy souls of the faithful departed, not yet ready to receive the glory of heaven, undergo purification from sin. These souls constitute what tradition calls the “Church suffering.” The Christian faithful on earth pray for the relief of these faithful souls so they will soon enter into their heavenly reward where they will be able to intercede for us on earth.

Various ancient pagan cultures visited the tombs of the dead, bringing banquets of rich food and wine, for their beloved departed who journeyed to the afterlife. Ancient Jews prayed for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins. The early Christians frequented the Catacombs in Rome to reverence their beloved departed brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of them retained the practice of leaving food and beverage offerings at these tombs. Inscriptions on the walls of the catacombs bear testimony to the early Christian belief of the intercessory prayer of these holy souls.

Catholics in various cultures today have developed similar pious practices of remembering the faithful departed. For instance, on the eve of the Feast of Holy Souls, Filipinos make a pilgrimage to the local cemetery where they pray all night for their departed relatives and friends. The cemetery is filled with the glow of numerous candles placed on the graves of the dead as a sign of the light of Christ which overcomes the darkness of sin and death. Such a practice is observed similarly in Poland, Italy, Romania, and Mexico. In the Mass for the Feast of the Holy Souls, in the presence of the Catholic faithful, the priest prays:

“Look favourably on our offerings, O Lord, so that your departed servants may be taken up into glory with your Son, in whose great mystery of love we are all united.”

In some places, Catholics have retained the custom of visiting cemeteries on the Feast of Holy Souls where a priest blesses the graves and sometimes celebrates Mass. This long-standing custom occurs at Pontville and Cornelian Bay cemeteries. As November is dedicated to praying for the Holy Souls, let’s renew this pious practice and great act of mercy as we enter November.


(Copyright © 2016)