The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if to others, indeed, they seem punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. (Wisdom 3:1-6)
As November is ushered in by the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, it seems a fitting time to contemplate our good friend, Sister Death, our faithful, inexorable, beloved conductor into eternal life. Beloved, of course, by those well acquainted with the unimaginable love and mercy of God.
This week I was watching EWTN’s Journey Home program. The episode featured an atheist turned Religious Sister, Sr. Theresa Alethia Noble, FSP. One of the points she shared was that an important part of her discernment process was a long period of time in which she daily contemplated her death. It served to cement her resolve to live each day as if it were her last chance to become a saint.
As poet Leon Bloy put it: “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” Contemplating our own death can help assist us down that narrow path.
The Office of Readings on the feast of All Souls gave an excellent tribute to Sister Death:
“It was by the death of one man that the world was redeemed. Christ did not need to die if he did not want to, but he did not look on death as something to be despised, something to be avoided, and he could have found no better means to save us than by dying. Thus his death is life for all. We are sealed with the sign of his death; when we pray we preach his death; when we offer sacrifice we proclaim his death. His death is victory; his death is a sacred sign; each year his death is celebrated with solemnity by the whole world.
“What more should we say about his death since we use this divine example to prove that it was death alone that won freedom from death, and death itself was its own redeemer? Death is then no cause for mourning, for it is the cause of mankind’s salvation. Death is not something to be avoided, for the Son of God did not think it beneath his dignity, nor did he seek to escape it.
“Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life was condemned because of sin to unremitting labour and unbearable sorrow and so began to experience the burden of wretchedness. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing.
“The soul has to turn away from the aimless paths of this life, from the defilement of an earthly body; it must reach out to those assemblies in heaven (though it is given only to the saints to be admitted to them) to sing the praises of God.”From St Ambrose’s book on the death of his brother Satyrus
As penitents we live with death every day as we are called to die daily to ourselves and to our passions. This too helps us down the narrow path.
In a few days, on November 12, BSP members begin our pre-Christmas fast, one of the two 40-day fasting periods we observe each year. May God grant us every grace we need to carry in our fasting His own death as we prepare our hearts to celebrate his holy birth. May He make us all saints.
“Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death, from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will. No second death can do them harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks, and serve Him with great humility.”Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, St. Francis of Assisi
Indulgenced Acts for the Faithful Departed
According to the Manual of Indulgences:
- A plenary indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful who,
- on any and each day from November 1 to 8, devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, if only mentally, for the departed;
- on All Souls’ Day (or, according to the judgment of the ordinary, on the Sunday preceding or following it, or on the solemnity of All Saints), devoutly visit a church or an oratory and recite an Our Father and the Creed.
- A partial indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful who,
- devoutly visit a cemetery and at least mentally pray for the dead;
- devoutly recite lauds or vespers from the Office of the Dead or the prayer Requiem aeternam (Eternal rest).
[Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.]
- To gain a plenary indulgence, in addition to excluding all attachment to sin, even venial sin, it is necessary to perform the indulgenced work and fulfill the following three conditions: sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff.
- A single sacramental confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences; but Holy Communion must be received and prayer for the intention of the Holy Father must be recited for the gaining of each plenary indulgence.
- The three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the prescribed work; it is, however, fitting that Communion be received and the prayer for the intention of the Holy Father be said on the same day the work is performed.
- If the full disposition is lacking, or if the work and the three prescribed conditions are not fulfilled, saving the provisions given in Norm 24 and in Norm 25 regarding those who are “impeded,” the indulgence will only be partial.
- The condition of praying for the intention of the Holy Father is fully satisfied by reciting one Our Father and one Hail Mary; nevertheless, one has the option of reciting any other prayer according to individual piety and devotion, if recited for this intention.