In the Western Church, our special day of prayer for the deceased is All Souls Day, which occurs every year on November 2nd, the day following All Saints Day. In the Maronite Rite of the Catholic Church (which is part of the ancient Rite from Antioch, where “the disciples were first called Christians”), the last Sunday before Lent is the “Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.” It is good for us to reflect on the prayers used during this liturgy which is all about praying for those who have gone before us, and it is good to do so as we prepare to enter into the Holy Season of Lent.
During the Prayer of Forgiveness (at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, or Mass), the priest prays:
O Christ our God, when you reward those at your right hand and judge those at your left, may the faithful departed, who were clothed in you at baptism and received your Body and Blood as blessed food on the path to eternity, be worthy to meet you with radiant faces. May they rest in your heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the saints, in the dwellings of light and joy.
We see here that claim that we have to eternal life begins when we are “clothed” in Christ Jesus in baptism, when we die and rise with Him, and it is nourished in the Most Holy Eucharist, which is our “food for the journey” through this life into heaven. We are called to share eternal life with the saints in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Now, O Lord, we implore you, with the fragrance of this incense, and with alms, prayers, and sacrifices offered on their behalf, to exalt them on your spiritual altar. Be please with what we have offered, and prepare us to share in the dwellings of joy to which we have been invited, through the abundance of your mercy and because of our perfect faith in you. We glorify you, your Father, and your Holy Spirit, for ever.
We intercede for the faithful departed, not simply with our own offerings, but with “the fragrance of this incense,” in other words, with the sacrifices of the Holy Church of God. We join with the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar through our “alms, prayers, and sacrifices” which we offer for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. In other words, when we offer alms (works of mercy, money given to assist the poor), prayers (the Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Lectio Divina, and other prayers), and sacrifices (our daily sufferings, trials, and any fasting or penances that we offer), all of these, when offered for the Souls in Purgatory, and in union with Christ’s self-offering on the Cross, which is made present in the Mass, are valuable for assisting the Poor Souls. In our prayers for them, we also pray for ourselves, that we may persevere in Grace, and come to eternal life with Christ, the Saints, and those who have gone before us.
As we enter the Holy Season of Lent, let us remember to pray and sacrifice for Souls of the Faithful Departed!