|Fishing Season Is Over.
The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.
Lessons from the common, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:*
• II Maccabees 12: 43-46.
• Psalm 23.
• Romans 5: 5-11.
• Matthew 11: 25-30.
Lessons from the proper, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:**
At the first Mass:
• I Corinthians 15: 51-57.
• Psalm 111: 7.
• Absolve, Dómine …***
• Sequence: Dies iræ …†
• John 5: 25-29.
At the second Mass:
• II Maccabees 12: 43-46.
• Psalm 111: 7.
• Absolve, Dómine …***
• John 6: 37-40.
At the third Mass:
• Apocalypse 14: 13.
• Psalm 111: 7.
• Absolve, Dómine …***
• John 6: 51-55.
The Twenty-Third Tuesday after Pentecost; and, the Feast of the Holy Martyrs Akindynos, Pegasius, Aphthonius, Elpidiphor & Anempodistus.††
First & third lessons from the pentecostarion, second & fourth from the menaion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• I Thessalonians 2: 20—3: 8.
• Ephesians 6: 10-17.
• Luke 11: 29-33.
• Matthew 10: 16-22.
9:39 AM 11/2/2015 — Rooted in the most ancient of Christian traditions, the concept of a liturgical commemoration for the souls of the faithful departed is drawn from Second Maccabees,—which I why I chose that particular lesson from the many available—the writings of Tertullian, and several Fathers of the Church from the second century. Saint Odilo of Cluny, whom I'm sure you know all about given that he's such a well-known and popular saint, established a memorial for the Holy Souls in Gaul in 988 (Gaul is what you call France if you're from the early Middle Ages, like me), and it was extended to the Universal Church in the 13th century. Pope Benedict XV, in his Apostolic Constitution Incruetum altaris sacrificium of August 10th, 1915, which I'm certain you all keep at your bedside for easy and frequent reference, decreed that every priest could offer three Masses on this day: one for whatever particular intention has been requested,—which is this Mass—one for the Holy Souls, and one for the intentions of the Pope.
If All Saints Day is the feast of heaven, emphasizing our unity with the Communion of the Saints who repose in heavenly glory, All Souls Day is the feast of Purgatory; and, while our catechism tells us that the souls in Purgatory are joyful in their sufferings because they know that heaven is their ultimate destination, the idea of it still leaves a bitter taste in our mouths, because we want to go to heaven right away. But, only perfect souls can enter into heaven so, if we should die in an imperfect state, assuming we are not to be damned, we must first be purified. That's why we pray for the dead, and offer Masses for them: the souls in heaven have no need of our prayers; the souls in hell cannot be helped by our prayers; so, if the Church prays for the dead, it must mean that there are some souls which are neither in heaven nor hell, souls whose salvation is assured because they did not die in a state of moral sin, but were nonetheless infected with the effects of venial sin, which must be purged from them before they can enter into the bliss of heavenly glory.
And, if I do say so myself, that was a very skillful summation of about ten questions out of your Baltimore Catechism. What is often missed is that both of these feasts—All Saints and All Souls—are both feasts of the Resurrection, and of that virtue that I've told you so many time during the last few weeks was the forgotten virtue: the virtue of Hope, and here's why.
There's a very interesting scene at the very end of the Gospel of St. John. There are a lot of curious scenes that are recorded in John’s Gospel that aren’t in the other three, and a lot of them we don’t read about in Church. It’s after the Crucifixion, either before or after our Lord has first appeared to His disciples depending on how much poetic licence we attribute to John in his unique chronology. Peter and a few of the other disciples are sitting on the beach around a fire. Jesus, Who had just risen from the dead,—if we give John the benefit of the doubt in his time-line—walks up to them, but they don’t know who He is. And after a while Peter gets up and says, “I’m going fishing.” It’s a significant moment, because what was Peter before he met our Lord? He was a fisherman. Jesus told him that he would become a fisher of men, but that was three years before; and, now Jesus was dead, or so Peter thought. When he gets up off the beach and says, “I’m going fishing,” what he’s really saying is, “It’s over. It was nice while it lasted, but it’s over. I’m going back to they way things were before I even met this Jesus fellow.” Jesus, whom he doesn’t recognize, goes fishing with him, and what do you think happens? Jesus repeats the very same miracle He performed when first he met Peter: the miraculous catch of fish. And, of course, with that, Peter recognizes who He is, and realizes that he’s committed the sin of losing hope.
The lesson wasn't lost on Peter, and it can't be lost on us. When we’ve reached the point where we cannot conceive of any way out of our problems—when there is just no solution that we can think of—all of a sudden Jesus provides one that we couldn’t have thought of because, to our way of thinking, it was impossible.
Take, for example, the awful truth that the celebration of All Souls Day forces before us, the ultimate fear of man: death. We fear death so because, to our way of thinking, there’s no escape from it; there’s no way around it. You can’t buy you’re way out of it, you can’t lie your way out of it, you can’t cry your way out of it, you can’t trick your way out of it. Everybody dies. We fear it because we can’t beat it. And we do everything we can possibly do to pretend that it doesn’t exist. We don’t even like to talk about it. When someone we know dies we never say that So-and-so died; we always say that So-and-so has “passed away.” And then we take the mortal remains of our loved ones who have died and we make them up to look like they’re sleeping, and we dress them in their Sunday best and give them a new hairdo—anything we can do to make it look like they’re anything but dead. [I once had a parishioner who had lost her hair-dressing business, but ended up making even more money doing outcalls at all the funeral homes in town doing what she called "dead-heads."] Not to mention all the crazy things we do to prolong our own lives as long as possible: we starve ourselves with crazy diets and take vitamins by the truck load and invest in whatever new contraption or plan that promises to make us look and feel younger. Stay up late and watch television and you'll see all the commercials for products or potions or contraptions that promise to make you feel younger, look younger, restore your sexual vitality, etc., etc. Then we come to Church and, supposedly, celebrate at every Mass that the Resurrection of Christ conquers death. What do we think that means? Does it mean that Jesus makes it so no one dies? Of course not, because we know that people do die; we've seen it happen to people we love. What it means is something that is impossible for us to comprehend in today's culture of death, something that cannot be understood or even coped with without faith. The resurrection of Christ from the tomb conquers death not by making it so that no one dies, but by making death irrelevant. We pass from this world because this world is not our destiny.
That is what gives the Christian his hope: not that Jesus can somehow take the problems of this world and make them all go away; what gives the Christian his hope is the knowledge that this world will one day pass away and, if we have persevered—if we have been faithful to Him during our brief time here—then we, too, will enjoy an everlasting life where the problems of this world simply do not exist. Some of us, because of the holiness of our lives, will enter into that everlasting life right away; most of us will probably need to be purified in Purgatory first, but ultimately will enter into heavenly glory.
Hopelessness is a sin precisely because it proves that we don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If we believe that life truly offers no options, that there is no way out, then what we’re saying is, “It’s over. There is nothing left for me.” And how can someone who believes in Jesus ever say that?
There is an old saying that life isn't always a bowl of cherries. Whoever made up that saying must have really liked cherries. But for the Christian—regardless of whether he likes cherries—it's really quite meaningless, because the Christian is a person who understands that life in this world isn't the only fruit in the bowl.
* In the ordinary form, the many lessons available from the common for the three Masses are too numerous to list. Given here are the lessons chosen by Father Michael for the one public Mass scheduled at the Shrine.
** In the extraordinary form, the lessons for the three Masses are specific.
*** The Tract is non-Scriptural: "O Lord, absolve the souls of all the faithful departed from every bond of sin. And by the help of Your grace may they be worthy to escape the sentence of vengeance. And to enjoy all the beatitude of the light eternal."
† The Sequence is sung at only one of the three Masses: either the principle public Mass or, if only private Masses are said, only at the first:
Dreaded day, that day of ire,
When the world shall melt in fire,
Told by Sibyl and David’s lyre.
Fright men’s hearts shall rudely shift,
As the Judge through gleaming rift
Comes each soul to closely sift.
Then, the trumpet’s shrill refrain,
Piercing tombs by hill and plain,
Souls to judgment shall arraign.
Death and nature stand aghast,
As the bodies rising fast,
Hie to hear the sentence passed.
Then, before Him shall be placed,
That whereon the verdict’s based,
Book wherein each deed is traced.
When the Judge His seat shall gain,
All that’s hidden shall be plain,
Nothing shall unjudged remain.
Wretched man, what can I plead?
Whom to ask to intercede,
When the just much mercy need?
You, O awe-inspiring Lord,
Saving e’en when unimplored,
Save me, mercy’s fount adored.
O sweet Jesus, mindful be,
That You came on earth for me:
Cast me not from You this day.
Seeking me Your strength was spent
Ransoming Your limbs were rent:
Is this toil to no intent?
You, awarding pains condign,
Mercy’s ear to me incline,
Ere the reckoning You assign.
I, felon-like, my lot bewail,
Suffused cheeks my shame unveil:
God! O let my prayer prevail.
Mary’s soul You fashioned white,
And did to heaven the thief invite;
Hope in me these now excite.
Prayers of mine in vain ascend:
You are good and will forefend,
In quenchless fire my life to end.
When the cursed by shame oppressed,
Enter flames at Your behest,
Call me then to join the blessed.
Place amid Your sheep accord,
Keep me from the tainted horde,
Set me in Your sight, O Lord.
Prostrate, suppliant, now no more
Unrepenting, as of yore,
Save me dying, I implore.
Mournful day that day of sighs,
When from dust shall man arise,
Stained with guilt his doom to know,
Mercy, Lord, on him bestow.
Jesus, kind! Your souls release,
Led them thence to realms of peace.
†† The Churches of the Byzantine Rite do, indeed, commemorate the Holy Souls, but not on this day. There are, in fact, five All Souls Days, four during the Great Fast (Lent) and one during Pascha (Easter), all on a Saturday; they are colloquially referred to as the "All Souls Saturdays."