The Catholic Church has taught that salvation is an ongoing process. St. Paul, for example, uses past, present, and future tense at different points (c.f. Rom 8:24, 2 Cor 2:15, Rom 5:9). We have been saved, in the past, by Jesus’ blood on the cross. We were saved by our entry into the life of Christ in baptism. We are saved, actively, in the present, as we “work out our salvation” (Phil 2:12) and when we receive absolution for our sins — the acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice in our current situation. We are going to be saved, at the end — saved from the fires of Hell by God welcoming us into His presence in Heaven.
What does this have to do with feast days? Well, we cannot know for certain — save some special, private revelation — where a loved has gone or, rather, what state they are in. In some special cases, the Church has determined that someone is in God’s presence, that they are in Heaven. She has added them to the list, the canon, of Saints. Now, there are only so many days in a year, and there are, thank God, far more than 365 saints. There are known saints and millions of unknown saints, and so many don’t have a personal feast day.
I’m reminded of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, which stands as a memorial to all those individual memorials that will never be. Likewise, the Church has established a feast for all those saints who aren’t on the calendar by name: The Feast of All Saints. This is the feast day for all saints: all those in the worldwide family of the Church, and all those in your family.
All Saints Day is your family feast day!
But we cannot know for certain, in most cases, who is fully in God’s presence in Heaven, and who is still going through cleansing in Purgatory. What about all those family members who still need to be purified — to pay back every last penny — before they can enter Heaven? First, we should not despair them. They are saved! Purgatory is not a place of indecision; they have already chosen God through their lives, and they will be in Heaven forever. We should pray and sacrifice for them, though, as we can help them with our prayers and offerings. (CCC 1032) And we should be celebrate their eventual entrance into Heaven. For both reasons, the Church makes the very next day after the Feast of All Saints another family feast, that of All Souls.
This is another family feast day! It is time to be grateful for God’s mercy, to pray for those who have gone before us, and to celebrate their victory over death in Christ.
As I write this, these days have passed, yet the entire month of November is set aside as a time to remember and pray for the dead. This is our family, the entire family of the Church, and our own families personally. These are the generations that have gone before us, working their salvations out as we must do now. Like a good family, the generations can help each other, can pray for each other, and can look forward to seeing each other again.
Copyright 2014, Joe Wetterling