“Life is changed, not ended”: Remembering our faithful departed

November comes between the rejoicing of the harvest and the short, dark days of winter. It is a time when people focus on death and the dead. Have just celebrated the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, we profess our solidarity with the saints and ancestors; with those on whose shoulders we stand. All of this helps us grow in readiness to acknowledge, with St. Francis, that death is a sister to us, another of God’s servant:

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape….
Blessed are those that she finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.

 - St. Francis of Assisi, “Canticle of the Sun”

Today, we went to a nearby cemetery so as to apply the November indulgence. There is something very peaceful about walking around a graveyard and reflecting upon the tombstones and praying for those many people who walked the earth just as we do now. It becomes the mirror where we ponder our own mortality and recall that ‘we are dust and to dust we will return’. After praying some of the psalms and the indulgence prayers, we wandered about and looked at the quotes and symbols on the tombstones, the attempt to sum up someone’s life in a few words or a simple graphic. One read: ‘Carpe Dieum’ or ‘Seize the day’, the ancient Roman lyric poet Horace’s call to jump headfirst into the world before time catches up. However, time does catch up with us all because time is not ours, our lives are in God’s hands. He is the sole Author of Life. His time turns our chronos into kairos, everlasting kairos.

It is during November that the Church meditates on the Communion of Saints, which is the charitable link with the faithful who have already reached heaven (Church Triumphant), the faithful departed who are still expiating their sins in Purgatory (Church Suffering) and of the pilgrim faithful here on earth (Church Militant). "In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1475).

There are many indulgences, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, that can be obtained during the month of November. An indulgence is "the remission before God of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned." To obtain this remission there are proper dispositions and certain conditions predetermined by the Church that must be met by the faithful. The remission is acquired through the intervention of the Church, who has the power to loose and bind granted through Jesus Christ. "As minister of the Redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of the satisfaction won by Christ and the Saints" (Enchiridion of Indulgences).

To attain a plenary indulgence, three conditions must accompany the prescribed act:
1. the faithful must receive the sacrament of confession, either eight days before or after the pious act is performed,
2. receive Holy Communion on that day
3. and recite prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father (one Our Father and one Hail Mary is the minimum, but any other additional prayers may be added).

Indulgences for the Holy Souls : A partial indulgence can be obtained by devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the departed, even if the prayer is only mental. One can gain a plenary indulgence visiting a cemetery each day between November 1st and November 8th. These indulgences are applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory.

It is fitting to finish with one of my favourite piece’s of music, it is one of the most poignant of Josh Groban’s songs in my opinion. There is something quite haunting in this short piece, yet one can sense in the music that there is a transition from death to life.

The words are as follows: “Morti irrequieti somnum reperiat et lux memorandi nostri eum
Porteat ad pacem aeternam”
and can be translated as “may the restless dead find sleep and may the light of our remembering guide them to everlasting sleep.”

This is our prayer for all those who have gone before us. May they rest in peace.