To Christ’s faithful, and
the religious and the Clergy
of the Diocese of Lismore
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ our Lord,
November, the Month of Prayer for the Faithful Departed
The Church’s Year is now drawing to its close and we look forward to a new beginning in Advent.I write to draw your attention to this month ahead which is set aside to pray for those who have died, and, in the light of the fact that one day we and all whom we love will surely follow them, to reflect on the present direction of our own lives.
“Human beings die only once, after which comes judgment” is the stark reminder given by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews (9:27). The Gospels and the other apostolic writers reveal the
glorious light of hope shed upon this statement in the Resurrection of Christ our Lord and the new life He shares with us in the sacramental Body of His Church.
When we die we face two judgments: the first as soon as we die, and the other at the Lord’s return at the world’s end when finally all is made new. At the first and individual judgement those who die completely united with God, with no trace of sin remaining, pass immediately to the joy of their Lord in heaven. Those who die at peace with God, but are still far from perfect when they leave this life, pass to that state of further purification which is called Purgatory. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1030)
These souls are dear to God, and we affectionately call them ‘holy’ because they are on their way to heaven. They will assuredly reach that goal when they have made their satisfaction for serious sins already absolved, and are free from all remaining imperfections. However, in Purgatory they can no longer help themselves because ‘the night has come, when no man can work.’ (St John 9:4). This is where we who are alive come in. We are familiar with the importance of performing acts of charity to help the living. In Christ we are taught that our loving help towards the dead is an even greater charity because of their greater need, equalled only by their inability to perfect themselves. They need the help of our prayers, penances and sacrifices within Christ’s body on earth, as well as the prayers of Our Lady and the saints in heaven.
Above all, they are helped by the offering here below of Christ’s Sacrifice in the Mass.
What about Indulgences? The Church has been around for a very long time, and is extraordinarily rich with the accumulated holiness of her members, in this world and in the next. This vast wealth of grace is there to be shared, and the seeking of an indulgence for
ourselves or for the faithful departed is the way by which we may obtain that share.
An indulgence is ‘a remission of the temporal punishment due to sin’ and it is a means of great benefit to those who have died. It is gained by performing some prayer or action, such as visiting the Blessed Sacrament in church, together with the fulfilment of certain conditions: having gone recenty to confession and received Holy Communion, and saying some prayers – the Our Father and Hail Mary – for the intentions of the Pope.
The Church continues to encourage us to obtain indulgences for the living and the dead,particularly for the souls in Purgatory.
On All Souls Day, 2nd November, each of us can obtain for the Holy Souls a full or ‘plenary’ remission by visiting a church or public chapel, and fulfilling the above conditions. Because of the good it does it is a practice not to be neglected.
November Masses: This November I wish strongly to encourage everyone to specially remember deceased family members and friends, and to pray for them. But above all have the Mass offered for their speedy departure from Purgatory, to share at length in the fulness of the eternal life which God created them, His sons and daughters, to enjoy.
In most parishes you can make use of supplied envelopes to have the names of your loved ones entered on November Mass lists, and to include the customary offering so that the priest can apply a Mass for the names of the deceased whom you specify.
Passing the facts of the faith to our children. Today many adults do not know or do not well understand the certain teaching about the Last Things given us by the Son of God Himself and entrusted to His Church. We all have a duty to learn, profess and witness to the truth as God has revealed it to us, and pass it on to our young people. If this is not done in regard to what happens when we die, a spiritual vacuum is created into which, as we see around us today, all sorts of superstitions and falsities can rush in — for example, unhealthy preoccupation with ‘calling up the dead’ through mediums, and occult practices which can lay people open to demonic forces— the very things from which Jesus Christ our Lord has delivered us. Even the Hallowe’en games and dress-ups that have spread in recent years indicate an ignorance or at least a distorted knowledge of the true state of the departed in Purgatory and the saints in glory.
Involving children in prayers for the faithful departed, and in helping to arrange with the priest a Mass to be offered in November for loved ones who have died, would be an excellent home
and school class activity. Not a few teenagers and young people have suffered the loss of friends their own age, and the encounter with the richness and the sanity of Christian belief and hope, and of our practices in the face of death, can make a lot of sense to them.
The liturgical celebration of funerals: With the continuing secularisation of attitudes and the distancing of many nominal Catholics from a Christian understanding of death and what lies
beyond, funerals over recent decades have tended more to appear as opportunities to share sympathy and sorrow in a communal celebration of the life of the deceased. A ‘eulogy’ and the
sharing of memories, in the absence of convictions about more important reasons for gathering, tend to become the central focus.
To offer comfort to the bereaved and to share our sympathy are certainly part of the celebration of a Catholic funeral, but its central purpose flows from our belief that those who have died stand more in need of our prayers and Masses offered for their speedy onward journey than they do of celebrations of their life that is past.
Yet as practising Catholics well know, the consolation, comfort and strength received from the celebration of our funeral liturgy, especially complete with the Requiem Mass, comes from a
power far beyond that of any human agency. It comes from the assurances of a divine message heard in God’s Word, and of an action far transcending even the best that our own efforts could
devise. Our funeral liturgy is that concrete action, given us by the Church, by which we can enfold our loved ones in the arms of God’s mercy by prayer and the atoning sacrifice His Son.
It constantly shows itself to have the power to reach the depths of the human heart, and to touch as well the hearts of those for whom faith is a struggle.
The attentive celebration of November as the Month of the Holy Souls, with its particular prayers and practices based on truths of the Faith about death and the life beyond, will help us to better appreciate and celebrate the occasions of the Christian funeral liturgy.
Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.
Yours devotedly in Christ,
Most Rev. Geoffrey H. Jarrett,
Bishop of Lismore.
27 October, 2011