October 31, 2008

Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls) /
Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionAlmost 1,000 years ago, the feast of commemorating all the departed souls was initiated at the great Benedictine Abbey of Cluny in France, situated roughly two-thirds of the way from Paris to Geneva.

Once, Cluny was a major center of learning and of missionary outreach. It is no wonder that a feast celebrated at Cluny would be observed throughout Europe.

Eventually, the feast of All Souls became an important date on the Catholic calendar.

On this weekend, instead of celebrating the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Church is observing the feast of All Souls.

Whenever the Church replaces the liturgy of a Sunday in the normal sequence of “Ordinary Time” with a feast, it intends to teach an important lesson.

The Church’s message is simple. Only the just may enter heaven, as the Scriptures teach. However, everyone has sinned. While forgiven, believers suffer the ill effects of their sins, while not bringing upon eternal death.

Purgatory is the Church’s theological explanation of how sinners overcome these ill effects. The lesson is about us as human beings and about God’s great love for us even if we have sinned.

The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom.

The purpose of this book is expressed in its name. It sees religious faith and devotion as the highest of human reasoning. Belief in God, and obedience to God, are only logical.

The reading is reassuring. It states that God will never forsake the righteous, but God will test the righteous as fire tests gold. Fire removes impurities from gold.

For the next reading, the Church presents a passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

For two millennia, Christians have regarded the Book of Romans to be one of the genuine masterpieces of Revelation.

This reading consoles us that while we have sinned, God still loves us. Indeed, the Son of God died for sinners so that they might have eternal life.

St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading.

In this reading, Jesus declares that no one who earnestly seeks God will be scorned. Each person is priceless. In God’s love, the plan is that no one shall be lost.


Death, penance and, of course, the drabness of the vestments and subdued tone of the liturgy on the feast of All Souls easily bring before us the image of gloom and unease.

However, in each of these readings, the Church forthrightly calls us not to despair, but rather to great hope.

We are sinners. Nevertheless, God loves us. Actually, it was for us in our sins that the Son of God came as Redeemer, dying in sacrifice on Calvary.

Believe that God loves us, the Church insists.

However, just as the ancient prophets and the Christian mystics knew quite well, sin injures humans. Even if we beg to be forgiven and have been forgiven, we bear the effects of the injuries of sin. As sinners, we are wounded. Our selfishness has been strengthened, and our vision further blurred. We are confused and uncertain.

Forgiveness gives us life again, but it does not eradicate the wounds or cover the scars. Purgatory is the opportunity to be purified, a chance for the wounds to be erased. It is a state of longing. The souls in purgatory understand the folly of their sins and also realize the beauty of God. They yearn to see God.

On this feast, we pray that God will hurry the process of purification so that the souls in purgatory soon will fully live with God.

We also must think of recommitting ourselves to God. We know that sin has wounded us, but we also know that God will forgive us if we ask for mercy. He loves us. †

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