Put Out into the Deep

All Souls Day: When We Join With The Dead in Spiritual Union

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

In one of his documents, St. Paul VI states concisely regarding the Communion of Saints, “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always (attentive) to our prayer” (CCC 962).

A woman watches as Pope Francis celebrates Mass marking the feast of All Souls at Laurentino Cemetery in Rome Nov. 2. (Photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

This concise statement is something that we celebrate on the Feast of All Saints and All Souls. Each November, we come to recognize in our liturgical celebration what we recite in the Apostle’s Creed, our firm belief that we pilgrims on earth are not alone in the Church. Those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, some still being purified awaiting their entrance into heaven, and the blessed saints in heaven, together form this one Church of Jesus Christ. Our spiritual union is stronger than any bond we might forge just here on earth, as these spiritual bonds link time and eternity together.

The Feast of All Saints is celebrated on Nov. 1 and reminds us that there are many saints in heaven, many blessed, who are not recognized in the Canon of the Saints, but have achieved that level of perfection that they can be admitted into God’s presence to enjoy the beatific vision. Sometimes the life of heaven eludes our understanding because of the varied images portrayed as clouds and other ethereal places.

But heaven, as we know, is not a place; it is a state — a state of being with God who is love. Pope Benedict XVI, in his wonderful encyclical Safe in Hope, gives us great insight into the reality of eternity, eternity which is somehow beyond our understanding. When he describes heaven, the Holy Father makes it clear that heaven is living in the presence of God, who is love. There is no other better explanation of heaven. To help our understanding of God’s love, Pope Benedict points to a unique love that exists between a husband and a wife, between children and parents, and between good friends. It is a love that is characterized by complete dedication. How important it is that we see this love as a mere image of the love who is God Himself. Our human experience of love is nothing compared to what we experience in heaven. 

Those saints in heaven, those known perhaps to us alone, our family members, those who were close to us, can be our intercessors just as the canonized saints are to us. We call upon the saints not in any type of false worship, but because they are our heroes, our models of love and attachment to God. So we ask them to intercede for us with God in various ways. The Church has always had a myriad of saints, each somehow in charge of a particular favor or grace that we need to obtain from God. There are saints for all occasions, saints for all of our needs because God has given us powerful intercessors for we who are pilgrims here on earth.

However, there are those who are still being purified, waiting for entrance into heaven. The longing for heaven is the suffering the soul experiences as not united completely with God. This purification, the longing for complete union with God, is not yet attained. We can help the souls who are in what we know as Purgatory.  Yes, this is not a place, but a state of purification and longing.

We can help them by our prayers and especially by remembrance in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In every Eucharistic prayer, there is a mention of the souls who have departed, because we are united to them in the Communion of Saints.  We can never forget that they too are part of the Church, the Church longing for complete union with God in Heaven. Our praying for them at Mass and especially when we request a Mass for a particular person has great effect upon lessening their pain of longing. 

All Souls Day is the day in which we remember our departed beloved dead. We are joined with them in spiritual union as we celebrate the Communion of Saints, and also are longing to be united with them someday. 

The Communion of Saints is a powerful statement of faith that has existed since the time of the Apostles. It gives us hope that we too someday, we pilgrims on earth, will join those who are praising God in Heaven. Our journey in life is like putting out into the deep of the unknown. We ask during these special days of prayers for the saints, and for the holy souls, that our journey in life will be bringing us happily to a complete and speedy union with God who is love.