John Paul II on prayer for all souls

To mark the millennium of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, commonly known as All Souls’ Day, established by St Odilo, (Abbot of Cluny, 994-1048), Pope John Paul said the following in a message to Bishop Raymond Seguy of Autun, Chalon and Macon, France, who also retains the title of Abbot of Cluny:

In praying for the dead, the Church above all contemplates the mystery of the Resurrection of Christ, who obtains salvation and eternal life for us through his Cross. Thus with St Odilo we can ceaselessly repeat: “The Cross is my refuge, my way and my life…. The Cross is my invincible weapon. The Cross repels all evil. The Cross dispels the darkness”. The Lord’s Cross reminds us that all life is illumined by the light of Easter and that no situation is totally lost, for Christ conquered death and opened the way for us to true life.

Comment: the cross is the way for all saints, it is also the way for all souls, as it “dispels the darkness.” Our popular culture, in its penchant for horror,  intensifies and revels in the darkness.  Death remains a mystery, and since, “no situation is totally lost,” we must continue to pray for the all of the dead in the “light of Easter.”

During the Eucharist, through the general intercessions and the Memento for the dead, the assembled community presents to the Father of all mercies those who have died, so that through the trial of purgatory they will be purified, if necessary and attain eternal joy. In entrusting them to the Lord we recognize our solidarity with them and share in their salvation in this wondrous mystery of the communion of saints.

Comment: we grieve over our losses, but we pray for them, in hope. Consider St. Augustine at the end of Book IX of the Confessions as he remembers Monica after her death:

“For when the day of her dissolution was so close, she took no thought to have her body sumptuously wrapped or embalmed with spices. Nor did she covet a handsome monument, or even care to be buried in her own country. About these things she gave no commands at all, but only desired to have her name remembered at thy altar, where she had served without the omission of a single day, and where she knew that the holy sacrifice was dispensed by which that handwriting that was against us is blotted out; and that enemy vanquished who, when he summed up our offenses and searched for something to bring against us, could find nothing in Him, in whom we conquer.”Confessions IX.13

 The Church believes that the souls detained in purgatory “are helped by the prayers of the faithful and most of all by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar” (Council of Trent, Decree on Purgatory), as well as by “alms and other works of piety” (Eugene IV, Bull Laetantur coeli). 

Comment: It is a great duty of our faith to constantly remember our beloved who went before us “marked with the signs of faith.” Augustine continues his Confessions with an appeal to the “pious affections” of those who remember the dead, and to remember his mother, the holy Monica and also his [pagan] father!

“Therefore, let her rest in peace with her husband, .  .  .  .  and inspire, O my Lord my God, inspire thy servants, my brothers; thy sons, my masters, who with voice and heart and writings I serve, that as many of them as shall read these confessions may also at thy altar remember Monica, thy handmaid, together with Patricius, once her husband; by whose flesh thou didst bring me into this life, in a manner I know not. May they with pious affection remember my parents in this transitory life, and remember my brothers under thee our Father in our Catholic mother; and remember my fellow citizens in the eternal Jerusalem, for which thy people sigh in their pilgrimage from birth until their return. So be fulfilled what my mother desired of me — more richly in the prayers of so many gained for her through these confessions of mine than by my prayers alone” Confessions IX.13

I therefore encourage Catholics to pray fervently for the dead, for their family members and for all our brothers and sisters who have died, that they may obtain the remission of the punishments due to their sins and may hear the Lord’s call: “Come, O my dear soul to eternal repose in the arms of my goodness, which has prepared eternal delights for you” (Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, 17, 4).

A fitting and beautiful conclusion by Pope John Paul II on 2 June 1998. We should remember him as well with our pious affection..

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