I am dismayed sometimes (okay, oftentimes!) at the poverty of spiritual development that seems to be displayed in my glimpses of parish life. The particular parish where I attend Mass weekly does have a good priest who is more traditional in his outlook than most of the priests in this diocese, but he is timid in expressing it.
So it was with his homily last night. The Mass was billed as the “vigil” of the Commemoration of All Souls (that parishes call their Saturday-evening-instead-of-Sunday-morning Mass a “vigil Mass” is a pet peeve of mine, but…moving on…), and so the pastor addressed All Souls. But since it was the end of a day in which he had celebrated Mass for the Solemnity of All Saints, he wanted to talk about that, too. Every year there is this kind of confusion on many levels regarding the two feasts, and so I think that in the Novus Ordo it should just be called “All Sails”.
Father gave a decent homily; I mean, he mentioned purgatory! He said those souls in purgatory need our prayers, but he didn’t really give a very strong reasons why. He didn’t mention that they can no longer do any works for their own salvation, and that they are being purged of sin, and that they are suffering even if they do know that Heaven is on the horizon. And he kept coming back to the notion that “we’ll see them again in Heaven some day”. Well…not if we don’t strive to be saints!
Once upon a time, I was the secretary at this parish, and I remember well scheduling Mass intentions. Every day was filled with an intention for the repose of the soul of a deceased loved one, or with “special intentions” for the living. That was then, and this is now: although the parish bulletin lists the Mass intentions for each Mass, there are more blank lines than filled ones. People are not offering Masses for the dead. Why not? I was hoping Father would talk about that a bit, but he didn’t; although there is a message in the bulletin about offering Masses for the dead during November. They can use them all through the year, though.
I wish every priest would read and recommend the book Hungry Souls to help people better understand the dire straits of the souls in purgatory! I wish they would talk more about the fact that those people we love who have died are probably not in Heaven, and that they probably were not the “saints” we declare them to be in their absence, and that we will meet the same fate! I wish people would just wake up!
Finally, there was a prayer in the bulletin that kind of sums up the childish level of faith I see here – granted, it is in the “Religious Education” section, so it is geared toward children, but still, what are we teaching them? The suggested prayer is this:
O God, we miss family members and friends who have died. We know that they are happy with you, but sometimes it is difficult to remember that when we think about them. We pray today for all people who miss someone who has died. May we all one day be united with you. Amen.
Well, for one thing, we don’t know that they are happy with God in Heaven, and that’s why we pray for them! We WANT them to be happy with God, but are we so sure they are saints already? And if we pray for their souls and they are already in Heaven, the merits of those prayers will be applied to a soul that needs them. So, better safe than sorry! I still pray for the souls of people who died many years ago.
Also, the above prayer seems more like a prayer for the living than the dead. It’s “all about me” – that pray is for “me” because I’m sad that people I love have died; it’s for other living people who are also missing their loved ones. What about the souls of the dead? Sure, it’s meant for kids, but let’s teach them a Catholic view of death and purgatory and hell. Will it scare them? Maybe, a little. Maybe enough to think about living a virtuous life!
I pray our Church leaders come to their senses soon and start teaching the faith. I also pray that people will be motivated to learn the faith despite the lack of sound catechesis in many parishes.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.