With November just around the corner on Sunday and Monday we commemorate the Communion of Saints when we. as the Church Militant here on earth, celebrate the Church Triumphant with the Solemnity of All Saints and the next day remember the Church Suffering with observance of All Souls. We continue today with our short series on the Communion of Saints picking up where we left off last week.
Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, reflected upon the souls of the faithful departed in his writings when he stated, "...we should not think that anything reaches the dead whom we care for, except what we solemnly ask for them by the sacrifice of the altar or by prayer or almsgiving. In fact, these do not benefit all those for whom they are made, only those whose lives were such that they prepared to be benefitted by them. But because we cannot tell who these may be, we should do these things for all the baptized, so that none be left out whom these benefits could and should reach. For it is better that they be superfluous for those whom they can neither hinder nor help than that they should be lacking to those whom they would help. But each person does these things very diligently for his relatives and friends, in expectation of a similar remembrance from the relatives and friends who will survive him. What is done as to burying the body is not an aid to salvation, but rather a duty of humanity, prompted by the love according to which 'no one hates his own flesh.' And so it is fitting that each man care for the body of his neighbor as best he can, when the neighbor has gone where he can not care for himself. If those who do not believe in the resurrection of the body do these things, how much more should those carry them out who do believe. Carrying out this office for a dead body which is to rise and live forever is a kind of witness to faith in the resurrection."
Following upon the thoughts of St. Augustine, Holy Mother Church recommends to us, the Church Militant, that we make an HEROIC ACT OF CHARITY on behalf of the holy souls. By this Act a person surrenders, in behalf of the souls in Purgatory, all the satisfaction made to God by his good works, including whatever satisfaction may be offered for him by others during his life and after.
Those who make the Heroic Act of Charity may gain a plenary indulgence applicable only to the dead. (1) Each day that they receive Holy Communion, if they have made their confession and visited a church or public oratory and prayed for the intentions of the Holy Father; (2) on Mondays if they attend Mass in supplication for the faithful departed, and fulfill the usual conditions. The usual conditions are as follows: Confession, Communion, a visit to a church or public oratory, and prayer for the intentions of the Pope.
Sacred Scripture leads us to a deeper devotion and understanding of the importance of praying for and making an Heroic Act of Charity for the faithful departed. Consider St. Paul's words to the Corinthians in Chapter 15: 35-44: "But someone will say, 'How do the dead rise? Or with what kind of body do they come?' Senseless man, what you yourself sow is not brought to life, unless it dies. And when you sow, you do not sow the body that shall be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or something else. But God gives it a body even as He has willed, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, another of beasts, another of birds, another of fishes. There are also Heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but of one kind is the glory of the Heavenly, of another kind the glory of the earthly. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown in corruption rises in incorruption; what is sown in dishonor rises in glory; what is sown in weakness rises in power, what is sown a natural body rises a spiritual body."
It is important to note that the existence of Purgatory can be referenced to 2 Machabees 12: 43-46, especially the last verse - "it is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins." The doctrine of Purgatory was given solemn definition by the Council of Trent as follows: "This dogmatic definition contains three points of faith that all Catholics are compelled to believe: (a) that there is a Purgatory; (b) that after death souls suffer there for their sins; (c) that the living can extend assistance to to such souls."
In the book of Apocalypse/Revelation, chapter 21: 27 it states: "There shall not enter into it (Heaven) anything defiled." And Jesus, in Matthew 5: 26, expounds on the Mercy of God: "Amen, I say to thee, thou wilt not come out from it until thou has paid the last penny." In the early Church, the canonical penances were severe. Grave sins, such as apostasy, were punished with a penance of seven years. During all this time the penitent was excluded from the company of the faithful. He knelt at the entrance of the church, asking for the prayers of those that entered. He heard only the first part of the Mass, and was not permitted to receive Holy Communion. On fixed days during the period of his penance he was obliged to fast on bread and water. But if those faithful interceded, the penitent was granted an indulgence; his penance was shortened.
Next week we will complete this short series on the Communion of Saints when we concentrate on what we, as members of the Church Militant, can do to help free the souls from Purgatory.