If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
-1 Corinthians: 1-2
To speak truth without love is often to be deliberately cruel. The inverse holds true, too—as to avoid the truth out of a sense of “love” causes just as much damage. Few places are these two equally erroneous attitudes on display quite like at the deathbed.
The former camp would say, truthfully but carelessly, “That person is gone. His soul stands in judgment before God Almighty. There is nothing more he can do for himself.” The latter camp would canonize every deceased member of the human race instantly, assuring us that Uncle Tim is, at this very moment, in heaven. Perhaps they would take it a step farther and try to convince us that Uncle Tim experienced some radical change in his very nature and is now an angel with wings, walking the Heavenly streets of gold. No further thought save for wistful ones need be directed towards our now angelic Uncle Tim as he strides confidently through the Pearly Gates.
Holy Mother Church, however, tells us of the third option, radiant with both truth and love. So important is this telling that She sets aside a whole day for it, and calls it All Souls Day. There, in that uniquely Catholic of celebrations, we acknowledge a number of tremendously important things.
-The dead cannot do anything for themselves in regards to their salvation. The Catechism states: Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. (CCC 1021)
– Not everybody goes to heaven, and not everybody who will go to heaven goes there immediately. Christ Himself affirms the first, as we read in the Catechism “Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,” and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!” (CCC 1034) And the second, that not everybody heaven-bound goes there immediately the Church has affirmed from the earliest days, The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire: As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. (CCC 1031)
– It is the responsibility and privilege of the living to pray for the dead. This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them. (CCC 1032)
It is a particularly cruel trick of the enemy that would strip Christians of these truths, replacing them instead with a false, sentimental sort of “love”. Not content with hounding humankind all our life here on Earth, he has to follow us into the Afterlife, depriving the Church Suffering of the comfort that the living can offer.
Enter All Souls Day, placed at the start of the month dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. In perfect love and perfect truth, the Church takes a whole month to encourage the faithful to pray, fast, and make offerings on behalf of the souls in Purgatory. For the next thirty days (and beyond!) consider doing some of the following:
- All Souls Day Cemetery Cleanup: this is a favorite in my household. On All Souls Day, we load up the van with rakes, lawn bags, leaf blowers and flowers and head to a local cemetery. We then spend time cleaning up, clearing overgrowth on headstones, reading the names of the dead and praying for them. Then we put flowers down, say a Rosary, and eat a picnic lunch. This is a great activity for all ages, and offers that marriage of physical with spiritual that is a hallmark of Catholicism.
- 30 Days for the Holy Souls: a very old book, written by an anonymous Irish nun, it is broken down into 30 small chapters, highlighting a different group of suffering souls each day, and offering meditations on Purgatory. An excellent resource for personal or group use.
- Have a series of Gregorian Masses said for the dead: “The custom of offering a set of Gregorian Masses dates back to Pope St. Gregory the Great (died 604) who wrote in the DIALOGUES (4:55; PL 77: 416-421) about a monk who obtained release from Purgatory after thirty Masses were offered on his behalf. The Church has declared the confidence of the faithful in the efficacy of Gregorian Masses to be pious and reasonable.” You can request them here at the Seraphic Mass Association. And while it seems to miss the point by mentioning the price ($240), it may be an excellent opportunity during the year to set aside money for the Masses. Give up your $5 designer coffee one day a week and put that money in a jar. As a family, give up a dinner out, and put that money in the collection. See how many sacrifices you can offer during the year to save up for the Masses.
- Pray for the Holy Souls: Gertrude the Great was given the following prayer by Christ, who assured her that devout recitation would free many souls from Purgatory-
“Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.”