Are you using the power God has given us to free souls from Purgatory?
As a kid, I always wondered if All Souls’ Day had an inferiority complex. I mean, it’s always following its big brother, All Saints’ Day, which everybody likes (or should, since we hope that one day it will be OUR feast day); All Saints is bright and happy and glorious and filled with joy. All Souls seemed, in comparison, perhaps something of a downer, a sad and dreary counterpart to the great Solemnity always overshadowing it. And, in the Calendar before the liturgical reform coming from the Second Vatican Council, All Souls never even got to be celebrated on a Sunday; it would be moved to the next available day.
I do know now that feast days don’t really get their feelings hurt, but the child in me had to cheer a bit this year, because, as it happens, All Souls has the upper hand in my little game of imaginary ecclesiastical-festival-sibling-rivalry. All Saints was not a “day of obligation” this year because it fell on a Saturday, but everybody has to attend All Souls this Sunday!
And that’s spectacular, at least the last part, since All Souls is a grand and magnificent day – even if somber – because it reminds us of two remarkable truths which we might often overlook, especially in the glare of All Saints’ glory.
The first is that it gives us a chance to talk about Purgatory, which is a gift of tremendous proportion, a comforting sign of the unflagging mercy God has for us. And the second is that it reminds us of an almost unimaginable power we possess: that we can actually help the dead.
Purgatory, it seems, has fallen out of favor with many; some even see it as an embarrassment. For the life of me – quite literally – I can’t imagine why. It is the enduring sign of God’s tender love, His patience, His indomitable will that we should all join Him.
You don’t go to a wedding without having first showered and put on clean (at least) and dressy (hopefully) clothes. Yes, you do have an Invitation (the Bride – the Church – and the Groom – Christ Himself – love you and want you there) and you have accepted the Invitation because you love them, and because you’ve become – through grace and the Sacraments and through how you’ve lived your life – their intimate friend. But you wouldn’t show up without first being ready. If you showed up unclean and badly attired, you would insult those you love and who love you, and – since I’m sure you’re a well-mannered and self-respecting person – would make yourself feel very, very uncomfortable, painfully so.
Well, limping analogies and all, this isn’t a bad beginning of an understanding of the grace that Purgatory is. No one can enter the Wedding Feast of the Lamb without being clean (holy) and well-dressed (prepared and desirous of being there). Remember what happened to the guest in the Parable of a few Sundays ago, who did not put on the wedding garment offered to him!
This earthly life offers us many possibilities; and ranking high among them is the opportunity to do our part to get ready to be with God, to participate in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. And not just as a guest, but as the Bride! It is not the reward for a good life (as if we’d earned it) but it is the (super)natural outflowing of a life lived in friendship with God that we are constantly being prepared – cleaned and scrubbed (by Confession, penance, virtue, prayer and the like) for our entry into the Feast.
But as we all know, if we’re ready to be completely honest, we don’t always stay clean and the garments of our deeds and choices, our memories and our desires, get soiled and rumpled. The Invitation is still in our pocket; we haven’t thrown it away (on purpose) or lost it by our inattention and self-absorption. So, what happens to us, still bedraggled by sin (but not quite the type that blots out our name on the invitation), when the great day, the day of the Wedding Feast – the day of our death, or better yet, our leaving this world – arrives?