Praying for (Forgotten) Saints and Sinners

All Saints’ Day weekend is big in the Philippines, big enough to call a nation-wide non-working holiday for the sake of those who annually visit the final resting place/s of departed loved ones. To be honest, I think there are more commercial establishments closed for the 1st of November than for Holy Week. (Does this mean it is more acceptable to suspend a day’s revenue to remember the dead than to do the same to remember Christ’s Passion and Death? Hmm, let’s ruminate on that for a second…)

While November 1 isn’t a Holy Day of Obligation in the Philippines (I checked), my mom always stressed that going to mass for the intentions of our dearly departed was the best thing we could do for them (actually, she told us it was a Holy Day of Obligation, but moving on…).

…day and night they never stopped singing: Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty; who was, and is and is to come. (Rev 4:8)

Attending mass on those 2 days (Nov. 1&2) was enlightening, to say the least. Firstly, I was reminded that the Feast of All Saints was not just a blanket commemoration of all the saints, but in particular, a remembrance of all those who lived holy lives and yet have stayed under the Church’s radar. If we were to use any blanket statement, it would be this: on this day, we honor all souls in Heaven. But with canonized Saints and their respective feast days, it feels right to take a day to remember these unsung heroes.

Secondly, I learned that on All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2), the whole Church takes on the task of praying specifically for the intentions of the souls undergoing purification in Purgatory. By offering our prayers and the Mass, we believe that we are helping them–whether in the purification process or in giving them consolation.

And who can bear the thought of a loved one suffering amidst a cleansing fire? We like to think of our loved ones resting fully in Heaven, and so we offer what we can to hasten their getting there. As I glanced around the crowd at mass that day, I recognized some neighbors and co-parishioners whose stories I was privy to–she who lost a brother in his 30’s to a heart attack, she who lost a daughter to cancer, he who lost a father, a son, a wife…so many stories. And as I saw them, and prayed with them, I secretly blessed them for faithfully remembering.

And then I remembered Patient X.

Patient X was a man who came into the ER unconscious. All signs and tests seemed to point to a massive heart attack–his chances were grim. I was the resident-on-call when he was admitted to the ICU that night, and on seeing his vitals, I asked if I could speak to the family–to explain the situation, and to present the parameters of the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form should they want to sign it.

A good chance he wouldn’t make it till morning…

To my surprise, there was no family member present. I discovered that a woman–his second wife? his mistress? I won’t pretend to know the whole complicated story–had brought him to the hospital, but had left abruptly when they needed to contact the patient’s “legal” family as listed by his HMO. And from what the nurses from the ER told me, it took a whole lot of explaining to even convince the man’s family to come.

Hours later, a girl who looked about my age came in–Patient X’s daughter. As soon as I started to gently explain the situation to her, she raised her hand to stop me. No need to discuss all these with me, she said, I don’t need to know, I don’t want to know. Just give me the papers that need to be signed.

Even though I was taken aback, I insisted on delivering my briefest DNR speech ever. Rather impatiently, she nodded her head at each resuscitative measure to be withheld. After we had gone through all the paperwork, she asked us one last time if there was anything else we needed her for. I told her that was all for now, and we would just contact her again once Patient X had expired.

With a look of exasperation, she asked if that was really necessary. I’ve already made arrangements for the body to be taken cared of, if that’s all that needs to be done, then I don’t need to come back here anymore. 

Shocked, I watched her walk out of the ICU. She didn’t even look into her father’s cubicle.

Wow. What kind of hurt did she have to go through, I wondered, for her to shake the dust off her feet like that? And what kind of life did Patient X live to end up dying alone in a hospital bed?

Did he deserve this? Does anyone deserve this?

In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and ‘because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins’ she offers her suffrages for them. (CCC#958)

I come to tell you that they suffer in Purgatory, that they weep, and that they demand with urgent cries the help of your prayers and your good works. I seem to hear them crying from the depths of those fires which devour them: “Tell our loved ones, tell our children, tell all our relatives how great the evils are which they are making us suffer. We throw ourselves at their feet to implore the help of their prayers. Ah! Tell them that since we have been separated from them, we have been here burning in the flames!”…Yet how quickly we could empty purgatory if we but really wished to…We must say many prayers for the souls of the faithful departed, for one must be so pure to enter heaven. –-St. Jean Marie Vianney

Because there are souls with no one to pray for them, some of them forcibly forgotten, we also remember them. The 2nd of November is a special day in that priests are allowed to celebrate more than the usual number of masses permitted in a day, as we the faithful are  likewise allowed to go to mass (as well as receive Holy Communion) as many as 3 times. Indulgences are attached to visiting a church as well as visiting a cemetery, all merits gained for the sake of these suffering souls.

What a beautiful tandem of feasts: one to remind us of our Heavenly aspirations, and the other awakening in us the reality that, to reach Heaven, we need all the help we can get.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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4 thoughts on “Praying for (Forgotten) Saints and Sinners

  1. Great post. We have a blog dedicated to the saints. Their stories are a great way to learn about history. Many of these saints were anything but holy in the early part of their lives. Check us out at Novena.com.

  2. Amen, Pauline. Thanks again for sharing this reflection with us. It really spoke to me. 🙂

    I am inspired by those who have gone before us and how their lives can teach us how to prepare for the after life. I am also blessed with this reminder to pray for the souls in purgatory. As a child, I always remembered to pray for them. I know God and Mama Mary are asking me to include them in my daily prayers and to not forget them.

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