New pastoral note ahead of All Souls Day encourages Catholics to pray for the dead, educates on Catholic teaching on purgatory
DETROIT — In Catholic theology, the Church is divided into three distinct groups. The first division, the visible Church, is made up of believers in their earthly lives, striving for holiness against the powers of evil and the flesh.
Another "wing" of the Church includes the faithful in heaven, crowned in righteousness alongside Jesus in his glory, enjoying the fruits of their labors. This includes the saints, both canonized and uncanonized, interceding for those on earth.
But the third category of believers — the faithful departed in purgatory — is often forgotten as it toils in prayer and penitence, being purified by God as a final preparation for heaven.
These Christians can be aided in their journey by the prayers of believers on earth, yet, they are too often forgotten, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron wrote to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Detroit in a new pastoral note released Oct. 29, ahead of All Souls Day.
In his letter, "A Call to Prayer: A Pastoral Note on Praying for the Souls in Purgatory," Archbishop Vigneron announced the creation of the Confraternity for Holy Souls, a new lay apostolate in the Archdiocese of Detroit dedicated to prayerfully interceding for the faithful departed. The note also offers catechesis about the Catholic doctrine on purgatory and encourages the faithful to remember the dead in their prayers, both during the month of November and throughout the year.
The archbishop's pastoral note is the 10th in a series of teaching letters examining topics relevant to modern culture and society through the lens of his 2017 pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel.
"An essential characteristic of the virtue of love is our devotion to Christian prayer — especially intercessory prayer for all, for the living and the dead," Archbishop Vigneron wrote. "The aim of the Confraternity for Holy Souls is to develop a better awareness among the faithful of our need to pray for our brothers and sisters who have passed on from this life and who need our prayers in preparation for their final journey of purification and sanctification to enter heaven."
By establishing confraternity chapters in Families of Parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Detroit, the archbishop said, "I hope that the Church of Detroit will develop an active community of intercessors praying regularly for the souls in purgatory."
In addition to praying for souls in purgatory, the goal of the confraternity is to help Catholics understand Catholic teaching on purgatory, indulgences, and the "four last things" — death, judgment, heaven and hell — as well as to develop ministries and holy hours dedicated to this purpose.
The confraternity will be led by Fr. Jeffrey Day, vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Archdiocese of Detroit, as its chaplain, and Marlon De La Torre, Ph.D., executive director of the archdiocese's Department of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, the archbishop said.
A workshop in which parish leaders can learn more about the Confraternity for Holy Souls, as well as how to establish a chapter, will take place Nov. 10 at St. James Parish in Novi.
The doctrine of purgatory — often misunderstood both within and outside the Church — comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1031) and is rooted in sacred Scripture, Archbishop Vigneron said. The Catholic teaching on purgatory, which goes back to the Church's earliest days, "refers to the cleansing of souls in preparation for their final home in heaven," he said.
"When we pass over from this life to the next, we hope that we die in grace and friendship with God. However, if we die in grace and friendship but still are imperfectly purified, we are assured salvation but must undergo a purification to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven (CCC 1030)," the archbishop teaches. "To share in the love that unites the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit, we must be purged of anything in our hearts that would be unworthy of the Heart of Jesus."
In Catholic theology, mortal sin is cleansed from a person's soul through the sacrament of confession. When penance is given, part of the purpose is to atone for what theologians call the "temporal punishment" due to sin — the residual effects of sin — and re-orient a person's habits toward God. In purgatory, those who have been forgiven of their mortal sins, yet still require this purification, continue this journey. And just like on earth, they can benefit from the prayers of others.
The Church finds precedence for its practice of praying for the dead in Scripture, particularly in the Second Book of Maccabees (12:46), in which the Jewish people would pray for soldiers slain on the battlefield, the archbishop said.
Throughout the centuries, the saints have given constant witness to this practice, Archbishop Vigneron added.
"St. John Chrysostom also reminds us about the importance of praying for the dead: 'Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died to offer our prayers for them' (Homily on Job 1:5)," Archbishop Vigneron added.
In addition to introducing the Confraternity for Holy Souls, Archbishop Vigneron will spend All Souls Day, Nov. 2, participating in Gather Them Home, an annual effort by the Archdiocese of Detroit and Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services to lay to rest cremated remains at no cost to family members and loved ones.
On that day, the archbishop will celebrate a 9 a.m. Mass at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, as well as a 7 p.m. sung Mass for the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Auxiliary Bishop Gerard W. Battersby will celebrate an 11 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown Township, and Fr. David Burgard will celebrate a 2 p.m. Mass at St. Joseph Cemetery in Monroe.
"I ask you prayerfully to consider joining together with your fellow parishioners to form a Confraternity for Holy Souls chapter within your Family of Parishes," Archbishop Vigneron said. "To learn more about the Confraternity and how to open a chapter in your community, visit aod.org/holysouls."
"Be assured of my prayers for you and for all those you love, especially those 'who have gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace,'” he added.
Confraternity for Holy Souls
To learn more about the Confraternity for Holy Souls in the Archdiocese of Detroit, visit aod.org/holysouls.
A workshop for parish leaders will take place at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, at St. James Parish in Novi, during which archdiocesan leaders will present the structure, intent and mission of the Confraternity, and how to establish a local chapter. The workshop will also address how to pray for the souls in purgatory, the Church’s teaching on indulgences, the doctrine of purgatory and its biblical foundations.
To read Archbishop Vigneron's pastoral note, "A Call to Prayer: A Pastoral Note on Praying for the Souls in Purgatory," as well as previous pastoral notes, visit unleashthegospel.com/pastoral-notes.
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