Monday, November 2, 2009


A general view of the tombstones with francophone and anglophone family names, Notre Dame Cemetery, Ottawa

All Souls Day is a solemn feast in our Roman Catholic Church commemorating all of those who have died and now are in Purgatory, being cleansed of their venial sins and atoning before entering fully into Heaven.

The importance of the feast was made clear by Pope Benedict XV (1914-22), when he granted all priests the privilege of celebrating three Masses on All Souls Day: one, for the faithful departed; one for the priest's intentions; and one for the intentions of the Holy Father. Only on a handful of other very important feast days are priests allowed to celebrate more than two Masses.

While All Souls Day is now paired with All Saints Day, which celebrates all of the faithful who are in Heaven, it originally was celebrated in the Easter season, around Pentecost Sunday (and still is in the Eastern Catholic Churches).

By the tenth century, the celebration had been moved to October; and sometime between 998 and 1030, St. Odilo of Cluny decreed that it should be celebrated on November 2 in all of the monasteries of his Benedictine congregation. Over the next two centuries, other Benedictines and the Carthusians began to celebrate it in their monasteries as well, and soon it spread to the entire Church.

On All Souls Day, we not only remember the dead, but we apply our efforts, through prayer, almsgiving, and the Mass, to their release from Purgatory. There are two indulgences attached to All Souls Day, one for visiting a church and another for visiting a cemetery. While the actions are performed by the living, the merits of the indulgences are applicable only to the souls in Purgatory.

Praying for the dead is a Christian obligation. In the modern world, when many have come to doubt the Church's teaching on Purgatory, the need for such prayers has only increased. The Church devotes the month of November to prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and participation in the Mass of All Souls Day is a good way to begin the month.

In the view of St. Odilo, prayer for the dead (that they "rest in peace") with celebration of the saints showed more fully Catholic belief in the communion of saints (those on earth, in purgatory, in heaven).

Christians have remembered their dead from earliest times. Third century writers spoke of an intermediate place of rest where the faithful awaited God's Final Judgment. Monica, in dialogue with Augustine at Ostia where she lay dying, told her son not to worry about her burial place, asking only that remember her at the Eucharist.

Many scriptures--especially the early ones--lack clear expectations of life after death. All who die--good or bad--descended to the shadowy netherworld called Sheol. Pious Israelites took comfort that their names lived on in their posterity and their remembrance through membership in the people of Israel.

A number of Psalms (49, 73) bristled at this common fate of humanity: "Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd; Sheol shall be their home" (Psalm 49:14).

The psalmist called on God for rescue; intimations of an ongoing life with God began to take shape: "But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol" (Psalm 49:15); "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73:26).

Gradually, God communicated a future full of hope, beyond death and the grave, for His faithful ones. This truth is boldly asserted in the Isaian Apocalypse (Isaiah 24-27), a work associated with the prophecies of Isaiah of Jerusalem. Its climax is a proclamation of the resurrection, "Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!" (26:19)

A view of the largest part of the Priests' Plot in Notre Dame Cemetery, Ottawa. Sadly, the general state of this section needs attention; it is the intention of the Archdiocese to address this matter and restore the area in order to honour in a fitting way the memory of our pastors in this Year of the Priest.

God's provident care reassured believers that the resurrection life was not a resumption of the life they lived on earth, even if the life to come has affinities with it. Continuity between earthly and heavenly life is symbolized by the images of banquet food and drink ("the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines").

Still, the future life with God differs notably from life in this world. It will be a new life in a new world, one where the sense of loss and grief will exist no longer: "[God] will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the [winding] sheet [of death] that is spread over all nations; He will swallow up death forever".

Paul faced a situation in Corinth where some Christians denied the future resurrection of the body. Ambivalence among Christians about the risen life in store for them may explain Paul's odd logic as we decipher his argumentation. He said that if God cannot raise the dead ("if there is no resurrection from the dead"), then Christ has not been raised and Paul has been discovered misrepresenting God ("because we testified of God that He raised Christ -- whom He did not raise if it is true that there is no resurrection from the dead").

After showing the stunning consequences of false conceptions of the resurrection (15:12-19), Paul laid out the orthodox understanding of the union of Christ and Christians as "children of the resurrection" (cf. Luke 20:36).

Paul made use of the notions of corporate personalities, Adam and Christ. Adam, through his disobedience to God, sowed the seeds of death which touch every human being ("all die in Adam"), while Christ, by His obedience to God's design, makes it possible for all people to inherit eternal life ("all will be made alive in Christ").

God has an ordered plan. We can imagine a full harvest of faithful believers being brought into God's granary, if we realize that Christ is the first fruits, who sanctifies His brothers and sisters after having been presented as the first of the harvest through His resurrection from the dead ("Christ the first fruits, then at His coming [= the Parousia] those who belong to Christ").

Christ's reign will endure until all God's enemies are defeated, the last of which is Death ("the last enemy to be destroyed is death").

This has already come true for the Blessed Virgin Mary in her Assumption into heaven; we yearn for that for our beloved dead and, one day, for ourselves.

The poignant death of a young priest: This inscription tells of the death of a priest at the age of 26, though the year of ordination is missing. "Here awaiting the resurrection of the dead [lies] Reverend D. Joseph F.L. Duhamel, born July 30, AD 1855, made a priest on December 8, AD [year missing]. He migrated from earth on September 24, 1881.

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A Visitor from Holy Cross College, Worcester, MA

Over the weekend, Father James (Jim) Hayes, S.J., rector of the Jesuit Community at Holy Cross College, Worcester, Massachusetts came to officiate at the baptism of the child of a former student at the Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

Jim was one of the scholastics who began theological studies in 1981 when I started my appointment as Rector of Regis College, Toronto. We have remained friends and kept in touch since then.

On Friday afternoon we celebrated Mass for a mutual friend, Father James (Jim) Higgins, former president of Canisius High School, Buffalo, NY, who passed away earlier this year of heart failure (he was Jim's classmate and my friend), then went out for dinner.

On Saturday, I gave Jim a tour of the Cathedral; we touched base again on Sunday morning before he started the drive home, having renewed our brotherhood and friendship in the Lord.

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