Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Purgatory - Encouragement on the Journey

Homily                                          STM, Toronto - November 8, 2015

“. . . how can we know the way? Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” John 14

Today we celebrate Mass as a Requiem for all souls and especially for those who have died in the service of our country. It is the culmination of what was once referred to as the “second Triduum” in the liturgical calendar, the Triduum of All Saints, which includes the Vigil of All Saints, the Solemnity of All Saints, and the Commemoration of All Souls. This is now extended, by custom in the Commonwealth, to Remembrance Day and the preceding week.

This deeply spiritual tradition traces its roots to the Israelites, as we can see in a passage from the 2nd Book of Maccabees in which we are told that Judas Maccabeus, having discovered amulets on his dead soldiers after a battle, “took up a collection, man by man, to the  amount  of  two thousand drachmas of  silver,  and sent  it  to  Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. ”

Christians from the earliest days have had a strong sense of solidarity, not only with the dead who are now saints in heaven, but also with the dead who are still in need of a final purification (most of us) before they enter the glory of heaven, the vision of God.

In fact, praying for the dead clearly reveals  what heaven truly is — intimate union with God —and consequently the purification that is necessary for this divine union. We are not simply destined to be with God, but to live within the life of God, the Holy Trinity.  That is why Jesus taught us that we must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. It is impossible to see how the soul that is not perfect in virtue, and purity of heart, could possibly enter into the most intimate union and vision of Almighty God.
And yet, how many people leave this world in such a state of perfection?  We think of soldiers and others killed suddenly without the opportunity to be in a state of grace.

The Church has always taught that there is an intermediary condition between the total imperfection and ultimate isolation that is not the place but the state of hell, and the total perfection that heaven requires. This is because the Church believes and proclaims both the justice and the mercy of God.
To assume that sinners who are sorry for their sins, but who escape the justice of this world for their sins, would simply be immediately purified by God’s merciful forgiveness, without a process of accounting and purification, surely undermines not only belief in the reality of divine justice, but any rationale for justice in this world as well.

How could it be that soldiers and others who underwent tremendous suffering for family and nation, and those innocents who endured suffering caused by the injustice and the evil of this world, would be blessed less than those who have escaped both the justice of this world and, by God’s mercy, the justice and purification in the world to come?

So it is that the Church definitively teaches that baptized souls who have not apostatized and do not undergo perfect purification for their sins in this world may receive purification in the intermediate state the Church has traditionally named Purgatory (a politically incorrect term in our day).
The Church further teaches that, because of the communion of saints, which all Christians share in, the spiritual merits of all the saints in heaven may be shared with us who are still on the journey. This is a great assistance and comfort for us on earth and for those who have gone before us but are not yet in the state of perfection necessary to enter into the divine embrace and perfect communion of God, the Holy Trinity.

We share these merits through our prayers and sacrifices, masses and requiems not only at this time but throughout the year.

Purgatory, then, is an infallible teaching of the Catholic Church, and praying for the dead is taught by the Church to be a spiritual practice in keeping with that doctrine, and with the mutual love and communion of the faithful.

In a culture in which funerals are often virtual canonizations of the deceased, declaring that the dead person is already an angel in heaven and implying that we are praying TO that deceased person rather than for that person’s soul, the Church’s teaching about the last things: Sin, Death, Heaven and Hell along with the encouraging doctrine of Purgatory are even more important.
Catholic and Orthodox Christians who regularly pray for their dead will almost certainly remain more mindful of, and so closer to their deceased loved ones than others who assume these dead are immediately in Heaven after death. This remembrance of love also strengthens our own faith and hope on the earthly pilgrimage.

Finally, praying for the dead keeps our focus on eternity, on the goal of human existence. Praying for the departed keeps our mortality before our minds in a spiritually healthy way.  In so doing we are helped to be mentally focused on what really matters in this life.
May we who pray for the dead today be blessed with devout friends and relatives who will perform this spiritual duty for us when we finally pass from this world.

“. . . how can we know the way? Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” John 14


Celebrant:   Death has been conquered in Jesus Christ. As the Redeemed People of God, we therefore intercede confidently for the living and the dead saying: Lord, have mercy.

Reading of the names of those commemorated.

Jesus Christ is Risen! May the Church proclaim his victory over death with confidence, fidelity, and joy; we pray to the Lord ...

The eternal banquet of life has been prepared! May God, the Holy Spirit continually inspire us to pray for all those who have given their lives for the freedom of our country and the world; we pray to the Lord...

For all souls in Purgatory; we pray to the Lord...

May all children who have died by miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion be carried to the joys of heaven, we pray to the Lord...

The souls of the just are in the hand of God. May all who have died in the peace of Christ find eternal life through the resurrection of our Lord in the communion of saints, we pray to the Lord...


Eternal God
Who frees the human family
From the dominion of the grave.
Hear our prayers,
Fill us with joy
And with the hope of life eternal.
We ask this through Christ our Risen Lord. Amen.

Penitential Rite follows.

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