Archbishop Alexander Sample
Archbishop Alexander Sample

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15: 54-57)

The mystery of death is something that has occupied the minds of people for all of human history. Death fascinates us, scares us, troubles us, causes us to question, or even comforts and consoles us. It is something that we will each experience. It is the great “leveler” of human beings. No one escapes death. It comes to rich and poor alike, the mighty and the meek, the arrogant and the humble.

But death should not strike fear into the heart of a believer and a disciple of the Lord Jesus. We might even come to see death as a friend that marks the passage from this life to the eternal life promised us by God. We are not meant for just this world, but for the Kingdom of Heaven. We should actually meditate on death as a reminder of the true meaning, purpose and destination of our life.

Perhaps it is the “unknown” associated with death that frightens us. What will it be like? Will it be painful? What will we see? What will we experience in the passage from this world to the next? Who will we see? What will the judgement of our life look like? What will purgatory be like?

But we should ultimately not fear “Sister Death” (as St. Francis of Assisi called her). St. Paul reminds us that death has been swallowed up in the victory of Jesus Christ. Through his sacred passion, death and resurrection, he has freed us from sin and unending death and opened for us the way to eternal life. We are saved through his paschal mystery, if only we remain faithful to him to the end.

The month of November in Catholic tradition is known as the “month of All Souls.” It begins with our observance of All Saints Day, on which we celebrate all those victorious souls who now see God face to face in Heaven. But this feast is immediately followed by All Souls Day, on which we pause to remember and pray for those who have died, especially our family members, loved ones and friends. But we pray for all the deceased, that they may soon be in God’s presence forever.

This offering of prayers for the dead, especially the greatest of all prayers, the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, implies that they are very much in need of our prayers. It implies the belief of the Church in Purgatory.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (CCC, 1030)

Our prayers for the dead are a great assistance to them in this final passage from death to eternal life:

“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.” (CCC, 1032)

The power of our prayers and sacrifices for the dead flows from our communion with them in the Mystical Body of Christ, the communion of saints:

“In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and because it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins she offers her suffrages for them. Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.” (CCC, 958)

This is a great and perhaps the final act of love that we can offer for our beloved dead, i.e. to assist them with our prayers and sacrifices. Death does not separate them from us, but only creates a new communion with them. As tempted as we are at the time of death to proclaim that our loved ones are now definitely with God, we do them a great disservice if we fail to pray for them in this final stage of purification. We should hope and take comfort that those we leave behind when we depart this world will pray for us. I am personally counting on it!

So in this month of All Souls, let us lift up our hearts in prayer for all the faithful departed. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen!