October 2013 - District Superior's Letter
The upcoming celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls Day call to mind the exceedingly comforting doctrine of the “communion of saints”. We can help the poor souls in purgatory by our prayers and sacrifices and especially by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is an ancient practice to pray for the dead. The poor-souls-envelopes prove our devotion to the poor souls and confort us in knowing that they are remembered in every Mass in the month of November. They, in turn, will pray for us in this valley of tears so that, with them, we may one day share the eternal joys of heaven.
Letter to Friends and Benefactors
The Communion of Saints
The upcoming celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls Day call to mind the exceedingly comforting doctrine of the “communion of saints”. We enjoy, while on earth, the protection of those holy souls who have passed on before us in the faith. We should recommend our intentions to their prayers. And just as they pray for us, we can pray for the poor souls detained in purgatory until they are set free. These feast days also recall the reality of death. If we do not have faith in the communion of saints, then what good can we really do for our deceased loved ones? At most we can care for the dying in their final hours and then arrange a dignified burial. But here those without faith reach their limit. Perhaps they will bring some flowers to the cemetery and whisper “rest in peace” at the graveside, but they recognize in their hopeless mourning that these are mere sterile words if they are not informed by faith
Catholics can help the souls of the faithful departed
It is an entirely different case for Catholics! We believe in the communion of saints. We pray and offer sacrifices, we give alms and have masses offered for the souls of our deceased friends and family members. We know with certainty that all these acts of love will benefit the souls of our departed loved ones. We can help them reach their eternal destination more quickly. This is a consoling thought! Our good works hasten their salvation! As often as we recite the words of the Preface for the Deceased, we give thanks “to the eternal God, through Christ our Lord, in whom the hope of a blessed resurrection has shone upon us, so that those who are saddened by the certainty of death may be consoled by the promise of a future deathless life. For to thy faithful people, Lord, life is changed, not taken way, and when the home of this earthly sojourn is dissolved, an eternal dwelling is made ready in heaven.
Praying for the dead is an ancient practice
The Church, at least since the third century if not earlier, has offered special prayers and ceremonies for the deceased, following the recommendation of the second book of Machabees 12,46 : “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” Tertullian (245) spoke about special offerings given on the day of someone’s death, and St. Cyprian (386) mentioned the faithful custom of remembering the deceased especially during the celebration of Holy Mass. In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius recalls that on the day of the funeral of Constantine the Great, innumerable prayers and masses were said for the beloved emperor. Catholics of all ages have thus piously kept their loved ones in their prayers.
St. Augustine begged for prayer for St. Monica
Let us consider an example from the life of St. Augustine. His mother, St. Monica, beckoned him to her deathbed and, desiring to put him at ease regarding her funeral, said to him: “Lay this body anywhere, let not the care for it trouble you at all. This only I ask, that you will remember me at the Lord's altar, wherever you be” (Confessions IX, 11).
St. Augustine then begged God to inspire the readers of his Confessions that whoever “shall read these confessions may at thy altar remember Monica, thy handmaid, together with Patricius, her sometime husband ... so my mother's last entreaty to me may, through my confessions more than through my prayers, be more abundantly fulfilled to her through the prayers of many.” (Confessions IX, 13).
Christians of all centuries have thus incessantly prayed for the departed. In the Mass of the Deceased we read: “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.” And on November 2nd we all will pray: “O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful, grant to the souls of thy servants and handmaidens the remission of all their sins, that through pious supplications they may obtain the pardon which they have always desired.”
The souls in purgatory can pray for us
Moreover, just as we pray for the holy souls in purgatory, so they in turn can pray for us. These souls are endowed with the grace of God and will soon join him forever in heaven; God thus loves them dearly. He will, therefore, listen favorably when they pray for us.
The laity participates in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
To offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most important work in the life of the priest. Every good priest says his daily mass. The Church also desires the laity to participate in this priestly sacrifice. In the early times, the faithful would bring their gifts to the altar during the Offertory. Among these gifts, they gave the priest bread and wine which he then consecrated. Any additional gifts were left to supply the priest’s daily needs and to assist him in works of charity. In the course of time, the faithful simply gave a monetary contribution instead. This contribution can be a mass stipend, in which the faithful offer a fixed amount of money while beseeching the priest to pray in a special manner for a specific intention. But the faithful can also give more general contributions. These contributions support the priest in his life’s work of offering the divine sacrifice for the glory of God and the good of souls. Thus any gift given to a priest supports the redeeming action of the altar.
Holy Mass is the best remedy for the poor souls
Among all the good works we can do for the poor souls in purgatory, there is none more profitable, none more pleasing to God, than to have masses said for the repose of their souls. Whenever a priest celebrates mass, Christ himself presents once more his passion and death before God the Father. His precious Body and Blood, separated on the altar by the priest, serve as the payment to divine justice for our salvation. Together with Christ, whose members we are, we too can offer up the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. At the very moment of consecration, the priest holds in his hands the price for the redemption of souls. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is thus the most effective remedy for the poor souls. Nothing appeases God as much as the Mass. Nowhere else can we find the same intensity of prayer, of adoration, of unconditional self-sacrifice.
It is therefore a meaningful and comforting tradition to prepare “poor-souls-envelopes” for the month of November. The stacks of envelopes, nicely bundled and visible on our altars during November, are proof of our devotion to the poor souls. Even if the few priests working in the district of Canada cannot entirely meet the large demand for mass stipends, God will still look down with gracious eyes on these stacks of envelopes and will grant abundant graces to the souls of our beloved friends and family who have fallen asleep in the Lord. They, in turn, will pray for us in this valley of tears so that, with them, we may one day share the eternal joys of heaven.
Father Jürgen Wegner