During these crisp autumn days, we breathe deeply what Hilaire Belloc called “the pure cold air that befits All Hallows.” The change in the weather is evocative for us also the change in the Church’s liturgical calendar as she enters the final month of her year. November indeed is the month of the Last Things: death, judgment, Heaven and Hell. It is the month dedicated to remembering our own mortality as we are still wayfarers in the Church Militant on Earth, praying for our beloved dead in the Church Suffering in Purgatory, and uniting ourselves in both longing and expectation with the Church Triumphant in Heaven.
On All Saints Day, we rejoiced to see the variety of God’s marvelous power at work in the hearts of believers who put His Word into action in their lives. On All Souls Day, we prayed for those who, having died in the friendship of God through grace, are still being purified of their attachment to sin in the fire of Purgatory. Today we are in the Octave of All Saints, which is also really also the continuation of All Souls Day. In fact, this time of All Saints is a particularly privileged time for our prayer for the dead. For the entire octave (through November 8), the Mass for the Dead becomes a third-class feast on all the ferial days.
But that is not all! As we read in the Enchiridion of Indulgences, #13, “An indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, is granted to the faithful, who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, even if only mentally, for the departed. The indulgence is plenary each day from the 1st to the 8th of November; on other days of the year it is partial.” What a tremendous treasure we can offer to our beloved dead during this holy octave merely by visiting a cemetery! By the indulgence that we gain for them, we offer to God, by way of suffrage, a share in their suffering so that they can more quickly move through Purgatory and enter in to see the Divine Essence in Heaven!
We do well to recall here the conditions attached to the receiving of an indulgence – namely, being in the state of grace, prayer for the Pope and reception of Holy Communion (for each indulgence each day), and receiving the Sacrament of Penance (can be “good” for several indulgences). We can ordinarily receive just one indulgence in one day, so we can visit the cemetery every day during the octave to receive a new indulgence daily for our dead! How can we not take advantage of such an easy opportunity to help our brothers and sisters in Purgatory!
The souls in Purgatory need our help. They are undergoing a most painful passive purification of their souls and they can do nothing any longer to help themselves. They are entirely dependent on our prayers to speed their progress along the road to the Vision of God. How grateful they will be to us for the help they receive from our prayers and sacrifices and indulgences! What friendly and generous intercessors we will have in Heaven when they arrive there!
These days of cold pure air are solemn indeed. They are most Christian as they call to mind the mystery of the Last Things. As we know certainly our mortality and our judgment, let us hope joyfully in the glory of Heaven. We are spurred on by the great Cloud of Witnesses in Heaven, who are praying for us and helping us, even as they have left us their example as our guide. All holy men and women, saints of God, pray for us!
Fr. Joseph Previtali, Assistant Chaplain