This is not the day on which the Church says we pray for the dead. We do that everyday, at every liturgy. Praying for those who have gone before us is as natural to the Catholic as the rhythm of the Mass. And this is a very good thing.
But a question surfaces: If this is not the day to pray for the dead, what is its purpose? The answer is both simple and complex. This feast of All Souls gives us an opportunity to reflect on WHY we pray for the dead, why it is important for us as a Church to do so, and how facing the reality of death helps us clarify our faith.
We pray for the dead first of all because we believe in a God who hears our prayers and listens with love. We know that only God can make a saint, and so we commend those who have died to his mercy, asking that their souls, these “souls of the just”, will be held in the hand of God. This prayer of commending our deceased brothers and sisters to the care of a loving Lord enables us to trust that God’s mercy, which is much greater than even our hopes, will embrace them.
Praying for the dead is also important for us as a Church. It unites us before God, and reminds us that our lives, here and now, are important. What we do matters. What the Church does matters. God has given us a community, fortified by Word and Sacrament, that, through baptism, is united with Christ in his death and resurrection.
Finally, anyone who has faced the death of someone they love has had to look at their own faith. It is often at the time of loss that we ask ourselves hard questions about our own lives, and the faith that sustains us. We know that death is real. Today’s feast gives us the opportunity to reflect on the greater reality of heaven. Jesus is trustworthy when he promises that “everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.”
And so we have the marvelous readings this day that call us to reflect more profoundly on reality: the reality of hope, resurrection and eternal life. This is God’s answer to the pain and loss of death. This is why this feast is important. This is why our faith is so significant. This is why we can face death without despair.
Fr. Edward Smith