The month of November is like it’s own liturgical season. Starting with All Souls Day and usually ending with the Feast of Christ the King, these last weeks of the liturgical year focus us on our ultimate destination: what our Tradition refers to as the FOUR LAST THINGS: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.
The Solemnity of All Saints Day, November 1, this year falls on a Sunday, and the celebration of the Solemnity supersedes the celebration of the Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time. So our readings and prayers this weekend are taken from the celebration of the Solemnity. This beautiful day can be thought of as the “Feast of the Unknown Saint,” or all those souls which are enjoying eternity in the presence of and unity with God and all the other saints. Aside from those who have been canonized (i.e., added to the canon, or list, of saints we know to be in heaven as celebrated by the Church’s liturgy) there are countless saints who by their faith and its fruits, and by the judgment and mercy of Christ, have been welcomed into their heavenly reward. These are the heroes of our Tradition. And this is the day we celebrate their sanctity, and we ask for their intercession, so that we, too, might be counted among them.
The Feast of All Souls, November 2, is the day we celebrate the souls in purgatory: those souls who by their faith and its fruit, and by the judgment and mercy of Christ, are bound for heaven, yet must learn to purify their attachments, letting go of everything, especially themselves, in favor of their relationship with God. While the eternal punishment of their sins is paid by the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ, the temporal consequences of sin, some of which is endured in earthly life, must be endured before entering into the majestic presence of God, where nothing with any impurity may enter. All Christians believe in this purgation necessary before entering Heaven: the difference is between whether it is in an instant, conferred by grace alone; or by a process of a spiritual state of cleansing (purgation). The souls in purgatory can intercede for us, for it benefits their process of dying to themselves to perform good works of intercession. And we can pray for the souls in purgatory: the Church begging God’s mercy to help free sinners in purgatory from their temporal punishment.
The beautiful Treatise on Purgatory by St. Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510) can help in our understanding of purgatory.
The souls enjoying everlasting happiness with God are sometimes called “The Church Triumphant” or “The Church in Heaven.” Those souls enduring the purifying fires of purgatory are “The Church Suffering” or the “Church Penitent” or the “Church in Purgatory.” Those of us still making our way through the temporal challenges of life, battling with Christ against the Enemy for our salvation, and working to spread the Gospel and the reign of God to all the earth, are called “The Church Militant” or “The Pilgrim Church” on earth. Together, all three aspects of the Church, “all part are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it,” all part of the “Communion of Saints.”
The Lectionary Readings for this weekend, the Solemnity of All Saints:
Rv 7:2-4, 9-14 – The Triumph of the Elect.
PS 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6 – Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
1 Jn 3:1-3 – See what love the Father has bestowed on us.
Mt 5:1-12a – The Beatitudes
The readings together help us to see the image of what our Life in Christ should look like: it should like like Christ. Patient, meek, merciful, and suffering, it is not the life that appeals to our earthly sensibilities. But our life is not oriented toward earthly glory. It is oriented toward heavenly glory. And so it is full of the virtues of heaven, which Jesus came to reveal to us in his example of earthly life and teaching. If we remain faithful to Him, in our prayers, in our choices, and in our love, then we too can share in the hope of heavenly eternity!