Each year this day - this Commemoration of the Faithful Departed - has a certain melancholiness to it (spellcheck tells me that isn't a word, but I don't know why it shouldn't be) as we pray that the departed servants of the Lord, "with the mortality of this life overcome ... may gaze eternally on" the Lord (Collect, Mass 3).
Today is an excellent opportunity, if possible, to visit the graves of our beloved dead and to pray there for them. If not today, certainly in the coming days, remembering the ancient prayer of the Church:
V/. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
R/. And let perpetual light shine upon them.
V/. May he/she rest in peace.
V/. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
R/. Amen.The boys choir Libera has a beautiful rendition of this prayer, based on the In Paradisum:
Over at Vultus Christi, Dom Mark provides a litany for the Holy Souls that can be prayed on the beads of the rosary.
This day also brings with it three general questions:
- What is Purgatory?
- Why is their death?
- Why do we pray for the dead?
To the first question, I have previously commented on Saint Bonaventure's understanding of Purgatory and on Benedict XVI's understanding of Purgatory. Jeff Mirus the Biblical foundation of Purgatory.
To the third question, I have commented on Saint Bonaventure's understanding of praying for the dead.
The second question is not as an easy to answer and to do so I will simply quote Saint Ambrose of Milan:
Death is then no cause for mourning, for it is the cause of mankind's salvation. Death is not something to be avoided, for the Son of God did not think it beneath his dignity, nor did he seek to escape it.
Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life was condemned because of sin to unremitting labor and unbearable sorrow and so began to experience the burden of wretchedness. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing.Anyone who has truly thought through life in this world without death understands what Saint Ambrose means. Death, even with its pain, is a blessing for those who die in friendship with God.
Today, then, we pray in a special way for those who have died in God's friendship, though not yet free of attachment to their sins.