All Saints Day and All Souls Day – Why do we pray for the dead and what are indulgences?

Dear Sons and Daughters in Christ,

November 1 is the Solemnity of All Saints, which is a Holy Day of Obligation. Our Mass times at the Basilica of Saint Mary on November 1 will be at 6:30 am, 8:00 am, 12:10 pm (Confessions after Mass) and 7:30 pm. The Basilica School of Saint Mary students will attend Mass in the morning at the Basilica. November 2 is All Souls Day, which is the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. We will have Mass at 8:30 am, preceded by our Communal First Saturday devotion at 8:00 am.

Since these important days on the liturgical calendar are this week, I will take this opportunity to reflect on the importance of offering Mass for the dead and the grace of indulgences.

The faithful have prayed for the departed since the earliest days of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “From the beginning, the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.” (CCC 1032)

This “purification” that the Catechism refers to happens in Purgatory. The Church “gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent.” (CCC 1031)

Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 3:15) and the First Epistle of Saint Peter (1 Peter 1:7) both contain messages about a cleansing fire. Even people in the Old Testament prayed for the dead, for example when Judas Maccabeus “made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” (2 Macc 12:46)

The Catechism adds, “The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.” (CCC 1032) Indulgences provide the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin that God has been already forgiven. There are numerous ways to earn an indulgence and they can be applied to the living or the dead, but there is a special plenary (full) indulgence for souls in Purgatory available on November 1 through 8. There are also simple ways to gain indulgences throughout the entire year. This article from the National Catholic Register explains how to attain these.

Be assured of my prayers for your deceased loved ones in the coming days.

Yours in Christ,

Father Edward Hathaway
Rector, Basilica of Saint Mary


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