Today, November 2, is the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, or All Souls’ Day. It is a day set aside to remember and pray for those faithful in Christ who have preceded us in death. The entire month of November, beginning with the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, is a month especially set aside by Catholics to remember and pray for our beloved dead.
For many years now, our family takes the month of November to pray for our loved ones in Christ who have died. On All Souls’ Day we make a list of their names and set it up in our home to remind us to pray for them. Sadly, as the years have passed, our list has gotten longer. But, while we weep for those we miss who have enlightened our lives, we do not despair their passing. Rather, we remain hopeful that the promises of Jesus will be fulfilled for them, as we hope that they will someday be fulfilled for us.
The Second Book of Maccabees recounts the battles Judas Maccabeus fought against the enemies of the Jews in the second century BC. After one such battle, Judas discovered that those Jews who had been killed each had worn a pagan idol under their tunic. Discerning that this is why they had died in battle, Judas takes up a collection to send to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice for the slain. Second Maccabees records:
“And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgiven. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain. And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead.) And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins” (2 Macc 12:42-46 D-RV).
In the middle fourth century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315 – 386) gave a series of Catechetical Lectures for those about to be and then newly baptized in Christ. These lectures were taken down by a faithful student and written out for posterity. In one of those lecture, St. Cyril explained the practice of praying for the dead in the Church’s liturgy:
“Then we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, Apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition; next, we make mention also of the holy fathers and bishops who have already fallen asleep, and, to put it simply, of all among us who have already fallen asleep: for we believe that it will be of very great benefit to the souls of those for whom the petition is carried up, while this holy and most solemn Sacrifice is laid out. …
“And I wish to persuade you by an illustration. For I know that there are many who are saying this: ‘If a soul departs from this world with sins, what does it profit it to be remembered in prayer?’ Well, if a king were to banish certain persons who had offended him, and those intervening for them were to plait a crown and offer it to him on behalf of the ones who were being punished, would he not grant a remission of their penalties? In the same way we too offer prayers to Him for those who have fallen asleep, though they be sinners. We do not plait a crown, but offer up Christ who has been sacrificed for our sins; and we thereby propitiate the benevolent God for them as well as for ourselves.” (from Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 1, by William A. Jurgens).
As St. Cyril of Jerusalem pointed out, one of the long-standing arguments against prayers for the dead is that they can non longer benefit those who have died. This is contrary to Holy Scripture and to the faith of the Church from the beginning, for we have the testimony of 2 Timothy 1:18 that St. Paul prayed for his late friend, Onesiphorus.
We pray for our dead because our hope is in Christ, who can overcome all sin.
George Hunt, Ruth Hunt, H. Guy Simmons, Billie Simmons, Matthew Czaplaski, Dr. Bob Hunt, Fr. David Findlay, Fr. J. Keith Zavelli, Fr. Bill Stelling, Ron Bredehoft, , Bill Ross, Margie Ross, Maria Tilly Meyers, Erin Corwin and baby, Nancy Feist and baby, Lourdes Garza, Michael, John Hunt, Teresa Hunt, Jim McNulty
Eternal rest grant onto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.