by Maria von Trapp
Toward the end of the year, on November 2nd, the Church sets a day aside which is devoted to the suffering souls in Purgatory.
Just as we turn to our big sisters and brothers, the saints, to intercede for us at the throne of God, the poor souls are also turning toward us “Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you, my friends, because the hand of the Lord has touched me” (Job 19:21; Office of the Dead).
Helpless in themselves, since the purification they are undergoing is passive suffering, they can be helped by us. We can pray for them. We can offer up sacrifices and good works with the desire that God may accept them and, seeing in them the prayer and suffering rise from the Mystical Body of His only Son, hasten the delivery of those souls whom He deems worthy and ready for such help.
On the day of “all the faithful departed” the Church reminds her children to listen to the message of the Scriptures in her liturgy and to do some thinking and meditating on Purgatory and the holy souls there.
We know Purgatory is a realm of twilight, so to speak–an in-between darkness and light, a place of regret and longing. Of the suffering which is undergone there, we are told that it is bitter and great, that it surpasses all imaginable suffering here on earth as an ocean surpasses a little puddle.
A knowledge of Purgatory we find already in the Old Testament.
Two hundred years before Christ Judas Machabeus “making a gathering…sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection, (for if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead); and because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them.
It is, therefore, a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins” (II Macc. 12:43-46).
All Souls’ Day is a solemn day for families. We mothers must tell our children again about the Communion of Saints, which functions in the same way as life in a large family, where each member depends on the others.
In this case, the poor souls depend on us. They depend on our love, but love does not consist in words only, it consists in deeds. The sooner the little ones learn to understand this, the better it is for their whole life.
On All Souls’ Day they will be encouraged to bring little sacrifices, to say special prayers. They will be told about the “thesaurus ecclesiae,” the golden treasure chest of Holy Church filled with the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin, of the saints–canonized and uncanonized–into which we may delve.
It was given to Peter to bind and loosen, and his successor, making use of that very power, sets the conditions under which this can be done. One such disposition is the “toties quoties” indulgence each time we visit a parish church on the second of November and say six “Our Fathers,” six “Hail Marys,” and six “Glorys,” we may gain a plenary indulgence applicable to the poor souls.
All Souls’ Day is also the date when we remind our children that on the solemn day of their baptism the Church lit the baptismal candle and said: “Receive this burning light and see thou guard the grace of thy baptism without blame. Keep the Commandments of God so that when the Lord shall come to call thee to the nuptials, thou mayst meet Him with all the Saints in the heavenly court, there to live forever and ever.”
This baptismal candle of our children we should wrap reverently and keep in a special place together with our own. If, as happened to us, these candles are no longer in the family (we could not take along such things from the old country), one can take candles blessed on Candlemas Day, tie the names of each child to a candle, and keep them in a special place. This is what we did.
Only Johannes, being born in this country, has his own original baptismal candle.
On All Souls’ Day we take the candles out and look at them and remind each other to light our candle for any of us in case of sudden death, as a symbol that we want to die in our baptismal innocence, that the light which was kindled at that solemn moment has not been extinguished voluntarily by us. It is always a solemn moment when the children are called to think of their parents’ death.
In the old country the great event of the day used to be the visit to the cemetery.
First I have to describe an Austrian cemetery. Out in the country every village has its cemetery around the church; bigger towns have them on the outskirts.
Every grave is a flower bed at the head of which is a crucifix, sometimes of wrought iron, sometimes carved in wood. Occasionally there are also tombstones.
Families take care of their graves individually. People who have moved elsewhere will pay the cemetery keeper to do it for them.
The German word for cemetery is “Gottesacker,” meaning “God’s acre.” In the summer it looks like a big flower garden.
People are constantly coming and going, working on their graves, or just praying for their loved ones.
On anniversaries you will see vigil lights burning and on All Souls’ Day every grave will have its little vigil light as a token that we do remember.
People will flock out to the cemeteries in the early evening because it is such a sight–those many, many flames and all the mounds covered with flowers. Slowly one walks up and down the aisles, stopping at the graves of relatives and friends to say a short prayer and sprinkle them with holy water.
When the father of our family died several years ago, we started our own old-world cemetery. Soon one of his children followed him and now there are two flower-covered mounds under the large carved-wood crucifix.
The lanterns are lit not only on the anniversaries and on All Souls’ Day, but every Saturday night. A hedge of “rosa multiflora” encircles this holy spot. Inside the hedge there is a bench and we often sit there in the peace and quiet of our little acre of God.
A very valuable sermon for this All Souls’ Day. Learn about Purgatory… Why is it needed? How long will one be there? What is it all about? Can we avoid it? Learn about the Sabbatine Privilege!
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Don’t forget (Nov. 1 –8) ! Go to a cemetery, say a prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be for the Pope, receive Holy Communion, go to confession within 20 days, and you will gain a Plenary Indulgence for one soul each day…. (Assuming no attachment to venial sin; thus a partial indulgence)…which means they will be released from Purgatory and will enter the Gates of Heaven! Those Souls will not forget about you…it comes back full circle! Get your children out there!
Requirements for obtaining a plenary indulgence:
*Do the work while in a state of grace
*Receive sacramental confession within 20 days of the work (several plenary indulgences may be earned per reception)
*Receive Eucharistic communion (one plenary indulgence may be earned per reception of Eucharist)
*Pray for the pope’s intentions (Just state that you are “praying for pope’s intentions,” followed by an Our Father and Hail Mary)
*Have no attachment to sin (even venial) — i.e., the Christian makes an act of the will to love God and despise sin. This simply means “true resolve” to avoid this sin from now on.
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A very blest feast of the Poor Souls! May they rest in peace. Amen.