The Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed (All Souls)
All Souls - Prayers for the deadFrom the beginning, Christians have prayed for the dead and have undertaken works of penance on their behalf. There is scriptural basis for this intercessory prayer for the sins of others and for the dead in the Old Testament. Job's sacrifices purified his sons (Job 1:5); and Judas Maccabeus "made atonement for the dead that they be delivered from their sin" (II Macc 12:46).
The tradition in the Church of having Masses said for the dead began in the earliest times. The pre-Christian Roman religion, which held that some form of life continued after death, gave votive offerings to the gods for the dead at three specified times: the third, seventh and thirtieth day after death. This practice of praying for the departed on these same days was adopted ("inculturated") by the early Christians -- and continued in the Church for nearly 2000 years: the Church offered Masses for the deceased person on the third, seventh and thirtieth day after death.
Beginning in the year 998, All souls -- the "faithful departed" -- were officially remembered in the Church's prayers on the evening of November 1, and with Requiem Masses, Masses for the dead, on November 2. All Souls Day is now a feast of the universal Church. (The word "requiem" is Latin for "rest".) Following the Second Vatican Council, all Masses celebrated on All Saints day observe that feast, not "All souls". Three Masses may still be said on All Souls Day. The first two are Masses for Burial, and the third is a Mass for the Dead. Black vestments may be worn on this day.
We pray for the faithful departed, those who have been baptized, but who need to be completely purified of all stain of sin before they come into full union with God in Heaven. In other words, most of us. The Church's teaching about Purgatory, the place of purification, is explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§1030-1032):
"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 heaven.
"The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:
"As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.
"This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: 'Therefore [Judas Maccabeus' made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.' 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 almogiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:
"Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them." [Saint John Chrysostom - 4th century]
Collect (from Masses for the Dead):
[for all our departed brothers and sisters]
hear our prayer and console us.
As we renew our faith in Your Son,
whom You raised from the dead,
strengthen our hope that all our departed brothers and sisters
will share in His resurrection,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen
Why We Pray for the Dead
We say prayers, not only for those whom we knew and loved, but also for the "poor souls". Explain to your children about praying for the "poor souls" who may have no one else -- no families, no children or grand-children -- to pray for them. This is an act of charity that we can perform for them.
Be sure to mention that that respect for the dead is part of respect for all human life which comes from God. Our heavenly Father gave us life, and we are all infinitely precious to Him, and he wants us all to be with him in heaven forever. We can see, then, how a denial of death, or a refusal to accept pain, sorrow, and suffering as part of life, is really a denial of the value of life and love.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church secton on Purgatory (1030-1032) explains that "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" (1030).
The Catechism states that "From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice... The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead" (1032).
The feast of All Souls is a reminder to pray for the "faithful departed". Although they are members of the Communion of Saints, have been saved and will one day be in heaven, they need to be perfected before they can go to Heaven, that is, to come into full unity with the perfection that is God.
We hope your school-age children have an opportunity to attend Mass on All Souls day. (If this is already not on your parish school's schedule, do suggest that it be added!)
Heavenly Father, You sent Christ Jesus your Son to wash away the sins of all mankind through His perfect sacrifice,
and you cleansed our departed brothers and sisters in the waters of baptism.
May His perfect sacrifice free them from the power of death and give them eternal life.
In your mercy, O Lord, grant them eternal rest,
and may perpetual light shine on them forever. + Amen.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.
Réquiem ætérnam dona eis, Dómine,
et lux perpétua lúceat eis.
Requiéscant in pace. Amen.