Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The month of November begins with the commemoration of the saints of the Church, those holy people whose faith, holiness, and work are placed before us as examples of virtue and Christian living. We are reminded that holiness, as St. Theresa of Calcutta said, is not a privilege for a few, but rather a simply duty for you and for me. In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council declared that the universal call to holiness applies to all Catholics in all states of life. We look to the saints for inspiration, and ask their intercession that we might live holy lives and one day enjoy eternal union with God in heaven. The great solemnity of All Saints is followed by All Souls’ Day. With this celebration, we are reminded of our particular duty to pray for those who have died. Though our deceased loved ones are gone from our sight, we remain united with them in a profound spiritual way. To the living is entrusted the role of praying on behalf of the dead, that they might enter into our Father’s Kingdom.
All Souls’ Day has traditionally given the entire month of November a spiritual theme. Just as the grey November days reflect “death” in nature, so we are reminded that this life will one day come to an end. Thus, the Church calls us to intercede on behalf of the deceased. Throughout history, we have spoken of the Church Triumphant, the Church Penitent, and the Church Militant. The Church Triumphant refers to the saints in Heaven. The Church Penitent refers to the deceased in Purgatory awaiting entrance into Heaven. The Church Militant refers to we, the living, who each day are engaged in the battle against evil. In a very real way, we are united – the saints in heaven pray for us, and as we pray for the souls in purgatory, we know that they will intercede on our behalf when they receive their eternal reward. The Church teaches us of our responsibility to the deceased by noting that it is a corporal work of mercy to bury the dead, and a spiritual work of mercy to pray for the dead.
The works of mercy related to the deceased are manifest most clearly during the funeral rites of the Church. The purpose of the funeral Mass is to pray for the deceased individual, offering the Church’s highest form of prayer, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In every funeral, we ask God to give the gift of salvation, to be merciful to the soul of our departed. In a secondary way, we pray for consolation in grief. Having carried out the spiritual work of mercy to pray for the dead, we proceed to the cemetery where we carry out the corporal work of mercy and bury the dead. These works of mercy are manifested also when we have Masses offered for the souls of the deceased, when we pray for the souls in Purgatory, and when we visit cemeteries and care for the graves. This month, we are encouraged to intentionally fulfill our responsibilities to the deceased by means of these corporal and spiritual works.
The Diocese of Bridgeport recently issued norms for the celebration of funerals in Fairfield County. They can be found at https://formationreimagined.org/funeral-norms/. I encourage you to read them and become more familiar with the beautiful rites we celebrate as Catholics. The resources posted on the website above can also give us guidance for our practices in this month, as we pray for and remember our departed loved ones. This column will, for the remainder of the month, be dedicated to further elaboration on the rites of the Church surrounding death.