Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith delivers the homily during an All Souls Mass at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Portland Nov. 2. (Courtesy Priscilla Rodriguez/Archdiocese of Portland Cemeteries)
Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith delivers the homily during an All Souls Mass at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Portland Nov. 2. (Courtesy Priscilla Rodriguez/Archdiocese of Portland Cemeteries)
HAPPY VALLEY — Hundreds gathered at the Portland area’s Catholic cemeteries on All Souls’ Day to remember their dead.

It was more than a pious exercise.

At Gethsemani Cemetery here, Archbishop Alexander Sample reminded worshippers of church teaching that after death, most people go through a cleansing process before they come to God. The church calls the process purgatory.

“When we die not all of us are ready to see God face to face and behold him in all his glory and all his splendor,” Archbishop Sample told a congregation of about 110, which flowed out into the small chapel’s portico.

The archbishop explained that we pray for the dead to ask God to speed their cleansing. “God is infinitely merciful, but he is also just. We are freed from eternal death, from hell, from our sins by the grace of the sacrifice of Christ. But our sins do harm to us, to others, to the body of Christ, the church. God is a just God, so we need to do penance for our sins.”

If we don’t manage to do penance in this life, God mercifully allows us to do so after death, the archbishop explained, adding that God even allows the living to aid the dead on their path through cleansing.

“Our prayers, our sacrifices do help them,” the archbishop said. “God will take the grace and merit of our prayers and apply it to them. What an act of kindness by God! Imagine what it means to our loved ones.”

He urged listeners not only to pray for the dead but to keep their own death and judgment in mind. He described a church in Rome where a crypt chapel is decorated with the bones and skeletons of Capuchin friars who have died over the centuries. There, a sign in many languages reads: “Where you are, we once were. Where we are, you one day will be.”

As the archbishop moved from the homily to the Eucharist, he said, “We grieve, yes, but always with hope in the promises of Christ.”

In the past weeks, Archbishop Sample put out invitations on social media, in the Catholic Sentinel, and elsewhere, asking people to send names of those who have died so he can pray for them. He received more than 800 responses and offered the All Souls Mass for those people. The ministry is ongoing. The archbishop still welcomes names at prayers@archdpdx.org.

In addition to its cemetery, Gethsemani is the location of Gethsemani Funeral Home, established to provide funeral services according to Catholic teaching and to offer guidance to other funeral directors on the Catholic way.

Dan Serres, who leads Gethsemani Funeral Home, said the All Souls’ Day Mass draws the loved ones of many who have died in the past year. He said the liturgy aims to proclaim that the relationship with those who die goes on.

That notion is lived out on any day when visitors to the cemetery come to see their dead. Serres and other staff have gotten to know the regulars.

Vietnamese Catholics have a deep tradition of honoring ancestors. Our Lady of La Vang Parish in Northeast Portland holds its All Souls’ Day Mass and then worshipers come to cemeteries to visit their dead and decorate graves. Gethsemani is the final resting place for many Vietnamese Catholics.

— Bob Jaques and Ed Langlois