OCTOBER 30, 2016
Yesterday I visited the tomb of my mom at a Catholic cemetery. A dozen people were cleaning and planting new flowers at every tomb. They told me that they were preparing for the Mass celebrations of the All Saints and All Souls Days, Nov. 1st & 2nd. They expected to have 5 thousand people at every open air service. Their services at the cemetery raise questions that non-Catholics often ask: Why do you Catholics pray to saints? Why don't you pray directly to God? Why do Catholics pray for the dead?
The answer is that we do pray directly to God, especially in every Mass. No relationship is more important than our relationship with God.
But our relationship with our Christian brothers and sisters is also important. We are all members of the Body of Christ. We are a community. We are a family. How often do you request your friends or family members to pray for you? If you believe that death is not the end of our Christian life then our “request” to the saints and our “intercession” for the dead are no less important than the living relationship between human beings.
The seriousness with which we have always taken this relationship with one another is seen in the Apostles' Creed, which dates back to the earliest days of Christianity. One of the twelve articles of the Creed reads "We believe in… the communion of saints" (the word saints is used here in the biblical sense of referring to followers of Jesus). The communion of saints professes our faith in the belief that we belong to a larger community or family than the faith family or the human family here on earth. We belong to those who have gone before us and those who follow after us. The communion of saints, therefore, includes three groups:
1. The Church in pilgrimage (on earth).
2. The Church in purgation (in purgatory, the saints in waiting)
3. The Church in perfection (in heaven, the saints).
Catholic attitude toward the saints is summed up in this prayer to God:
You are praised in the company of your saints....
By their way of life
You offer us an example.
By communion with them,
You give us companionship.
By their intercession,
Sure support, so that,
Encouraged by so great a cloud of witnesses,
We may run as victors in the race before us
And win with them the imperishable crown of glory. (Preface I of Saints)
This month of November, the month we set aside to pray for those who have gone before us and those who are in PURGATORY. Of course, the salvation belongs to the mercy of God, not to our personal merits; but our life of faith will tell us whether we let that mercy of God work in us or not and it will determine where we will go. The truth is this: some are not good enough for heaven and not bad enough for hell. Where do such people go when they die? Only the Catholic Church has the answer: they really need a real purgation before seeing God. The word of Jesus may be applied to them “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Who of us can declare that we are “perfect” when we die? In any eulogy we hear at a funeral that that dead person is perfectly holy or perfectly human but in our heart we know that it is not the truth. A well-known mob was gunned down on the street. His brother, who was also a street gang member, promised the priest a great fund for his church if he declared his brother a saint at the funeral. The priest agreed and at the funeral he said, “This man was a drug dealer, a murderer, a sexual abuser and a serial killer but, compared to his brother, he was a saint.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but are 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”. They are the future saints in our church family.
All of us have some loved ones who have gone before us. We can help them “purify” themselves by our prayers, our charity work and especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in which we pray: “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection, and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face.” (Eucharistic Prayer II)
ETERNAL REST GRANT UNTO THEM O LORD AND LET YOUR PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON THEM.