By: Paul Murano – Nov. 2023
For Catholic Christians, November is a month dedicated to remembering the dead. While October is set aside to honor the Mother of God incarnate, November is uniquely consecrated to commemorating those who have passed on before us.
This is more than just a kind of remembrance one has for a pleasant memory or an old TV show, however. It is an interactive commemoration. From what we understand through divine Revelation, even though the souls of the dead are disembodied, they retain consciousness and identity.
The human soul is subsistent as the spiritual form of the body, and hence able to survive bodily death. Yet, since we are by nature body-soul composites, the soul by itself is incomplete. After its particular judgment, the personal soul knows its eternal destiny and anticipates the resurrection of the body on the last day.
The Church recognizes the souls of the dead that have attained salvation are still alive in Christ, and remain united in charity to the Church on earth. This is because the Church is the mystical body of Christ, spiritually united to her Head by the Holy Spirit, and comprised of a three-tiered community of persons: the Church Triumphant, the Church Suffering, and the Church Militant.
These are the souls in Heaven, the souls in Purgatory, and the people on earth, respectively. The relationship within and between these three tiers is not disconnected due to physical death, but united in one body by the one Spirit, just as cells are united in a human body by its soul.
Only spiritual death cuts one off from the mystical body. The spiritually dead include souls in Hell and people on earth who are in the state of sin. The latter still have an opportunity to get right with God, but those who remain unrepentant unto death choose everlasting torment due to their irrevocable decision to refuse God’s offer of wholeness and joy.
The souls in Heaven need no prayers. They have claimed their reward won for them by the sacrifice of Christ. The souls in Hell also need no prayers. They have permanently rejected God’s goodness, choosing falsehood and hatred over truth and love. The two tiers of the mystical body that do need prayers are the Church Militant and the Church Suffering.
Those in Purgatory have been saved by their love of God, and are ‘on route’ to Heaven. To apprehend the conundrum of Purgatory, consider an analogy: A disobedient child is forgiven after being contrite for playing in the mud after being ordered by his parents not to do so. Although he’s been reconciled with his parents, he’s still not allowed to enter into the pristine atmosphere of the family banquet until after he serves a small punishment, takes a bath, and changes his filthy clothes.
This simple principle can be applied to the doctrine of Purgatory. Souls that are still attached to sin and haven’t done sufficient penance in this life still need purgation in the next. Only with that are they fit to partake in the eternal banquet with God, the angels and saints; for nothing impure can enter the glorious gates of Heaven and experience the fullness of the beatific vision.
November, therefore, is the month Catholics set aside to honor the souls in Heaven and to pray for those in purgatory. The first two days – All Saints Day and All Souls Day – set the stage for a month of prayer and reflection. Since the three tiers are united in Christ, we all can benefit from each other’s prayer and charity. This is the spiritual order of the mystical body ordained by God.
So pray for your dead loved ones. If you’re convinced they’re in Heaven, ask for their intercession. If you want to play it safer and assume they’re in Purgatory, pray for their release. This month reminds us that love conquers death, earthly life is short, and what really matters is the eternal destiny we choose by how we love God seek to do His will.
Paul Murano is producer and host of Beneath the Surface video podcasts, and has taught college philosophy & theology for over 15 years. Check out some of his work at Paulmurano.com and Youtube.com/Veritas3737. E-mail Paul at PJDM@aol.com