All Souls Day, November 2
Season of Gratitude – All Souls Day
As a girl attending a Catholic grade school, I was taught to pray for the poor souls in purgatory on this day. We were encouraged to make visits to the church and pray a special set of prayers. For each visit a soul would be set free–or so we were taught. Visions of souls floating skyward filled my childish brain.
Purgatory and hell were places of great suffering, places of eternal fire and brimstone, going back to the middle age concepts of heaven and hell found in Dante’s Inferno. The only difference between hell and purgatory was that the souls in purgatory had a way out. Not totally depraved, after atoning for their sins on earth they could make it to heaven.
We don’t talk so much about fire and brimstone now. That there is a hell, yes, we believe, but the suffering comes from being removed from God, never seeing God face-to-face. That alone is suffering enough. We hope and pray that no-one is there, but in that we have free will, we also have the option of choosing against God.
Some theologians posit that purgatory, a place of purgation, cleansing of our sins, takes place during the life review upon our death. We examine our life with our God and experience pain for all the wrong turns we took or ways in which we didn’t live up to our potential. Then we are forgiven and ready for heaven.
We don’t speak so much of praying for the souls in purgatory any more. Some would say they are in God’s hands and don’t require our prayers, that it is foolish to think our prayers can have an impact on the other world any more than the prayers of the saints in heaven can have an impact on our world. And yet, St. Teresa of Lisieux spoke of spending heaven praying for those of us on earth.
No prayer is ever wasted. Ours is not to worry about the effectiveness of the prayers. Ours is just to pray. And so we pray today in memory of those who have died and trust God to do the rest.
“But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. . . For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.” Wisdom 3:1,4-5
This post is part of a series of reflections on the Church year. click here to follow blog