Monday, November 2, 2009
All Souls Day
There is quite a different spirit and tone between yesterday's celebration of All Saints Day and our celebration of All Souls Day today.
Yesterday we rejoiced with the saints who already enjoy the glory of heaven, while today we pray for those souls experiencing God's last act of mercy in Purgatory. Yesterday we celebrated Jesus' resurrection victory which the saints already share in, while today we pray for those souls being stripped of the last encumbrance of sin which clings to them. Looking at it again from our perspective, yesterday we celebrated Jesus' promise to us that we will ourselves one day "share the lot of the saints in light", while today we painfully remember that before reaching the glory of heaven we still have to struggle and suffer with the realities of sin and death in our world. Jesus has already won the victory for us, but the drama of redemption is still being played out in history and in our individual lives.
Despite the more somber and penitential spirit of today's liturgy, the hope that faith gives still takes center stage, is still the focus, is the reason we can call today's liturgy a "celebration". For death is no longer the victory of sin over God's gift of life, no longer an senseless and tragic end to human existence, but, in Jesus, death becomes the passageway to everlasting life and salvation.
The Old Testament readings underline this victory of God's mercy over his just wrath. In the first reading from the book of Lamentations the author reaffirms his belief that "the favors of the Lord are not exhausted." Though he interprets the destruction of Jerusalem as God's just punishments for the people's infidelity, he reminds himself that God does not delight in destruction but wounds only that he may heal. In the responsorial psalm, the people of Israel are encouraged to hope in the Lord because he will not keep track of sin but treat us according to his mercy.
But as yet in the Old Testament that hope in God's mercy remains vague. The people continue to await an historic salvific event to focus their hopes upon. It is not until the New Testament that our hope in God's mercy becomes real in the person of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His death ripped away the veil barring our access to the Father. By our baptism, we are all given a share in his death and the pledge that we would likewise come to share in his resurrection.
We are a people who continue to live in bondage to sin and in the shadow of death. When we have passed through death, God will show us one last act of mercy by stripping from us whatever stain of sin may still be remaining so that we may look with unveiled faces upon the revelation of his glory which he has had planned for us for all eternity.