The month of November has begun with the Solemn Feast of All Saints followed by the Commemoration of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. The 16th century tradition of devoting each month of the year to a special intention continues in the Catholic Church with November annually assigned to our prayerful remembrance of “those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.” We identify the saints as “the Church triumphant” and believe them to be in the eternal presence of God. The rest of the faithful departed are called “the Church suffering”: those believers who have died but whose souls exist in a state of atonement for sins committed during their lives. This condition of “purgation” is known as Purgatory.
While often misunderstood or mispresented, Purgatory is an element of Church doctrine that describes our passing from this earth and its attachment to sin to the full freedom and joys of heaven. One hundred and fifty years before Christ, the Book of Maccabees proclaimed, “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead (2 Maccabees 12: 46).” And so we Christians, with faith in Christ’s Resurrection and promise of eternal life to those who believe in him, pray for the dead that their souls, too, may rise with Christ. Rather than simply punishment, Purgatory is a sign of God’s ultimate love, forgiveness and mercy for those who have sinned. The souls in Purgatory will enter paradise, that is our faith conviction. And it has long been our Catholic custom to help them on their way with our prayers and good works on their behalf, especially during the month of November.