I have to say, every year during Hallowtide, I have to look up the difference between All Saints and All Souls.
So what is the actual difference between All Saints and All Souls? All Saints celebrates those who we believe are in heaven. All Souls is for those who haven’t gotten there yet. I’m not sure why my brain steadfastly refuses to store that information. I have far more useless information that bumps on up against the brain pan, and is stuck there for life. I tend to lump all three – Hallowe’en, All Saints’ And All Souls’ days – into the conveniently packaged Hallowtide, but if I’m going to find something pithy for us to chew on, I kinda need to know.
So here’s the thing. There are 7 sacraments that RC kids can celebrate as they progress through their lives: Baptism, Confession, Communion, Confirmation, Marriage OR Holy Orders, and finally, the Anointing of the Sick. The goal is to have a clean conscience when you die, which is why the priest is often called as someone is close to death. But not all the RC kids get there, so there’s a waystation between this mortal coil and heaven: Purgatory. The way you get passage to the pearly gates is by the prayers of your friends and family chipping away at any stain remaining on your soul – That’s what All Souls’ is all about. I’m a little fuzzy on how that works. If I go to confession, I take a hard look at my conscience, and then I apologize to God, and the priest gives me some penance. I’m also a little fuzzy on the sin-to-prayer conversion chart there, too. I’m being glib about it – I know that while a priest can’t break the confidentiality of the confessional, he can instruct someone to turn themselves in to police if the sin warrants that, or to make amends as necessary. And I get that kind of practical penance. But truly, I missed mass a few times, so that’s 3 Hail Marys, but if I steal the Christmas wreath off my neighbour’s door, that gets me an extra Our Father and two more Hail Marys? So really, I don’t understand how these prayers are a good restitution for harm done. No matter. The point is, that if you die without having a final confession, you end up in Purgatory, and you depend on the grace and prayers of others to get you sprung from there and into heaven. So on All Souls’ we pray for the souls in Purgatory as a whole.
I think sometimes about what that means – The sum total of the souls in Purgatory. They can’t repent for their misguided ways anymore, so what if they don’t have anyone to intercede on their behalf? And there’s the crux of it.
Yesterday I mentioned that you could send a card or (through the local chapters of the Military Family Resource Center) a package to someone who doesn’t have anyone. It’s good if you come from a family or community that is supportive and sends you cards of support and tins of cookies to keep your morale up, but not everyone has that. It’s good to just do a good thing for someone who needs it.
I think that a lot of the buzz around Remembrance day is memorializing long-ago soldiers; especially ones who did not return. And certainly, there are others who have died in service to Canada – in the last year, even. I read an article a while back that questioned whether Remembrance Day (or perhaps Veteran’s Day in the US) was to *remember* or whether it was to be grateful to all military members – no matter their role, their age, their battalion or regiment or wing. I think it’s both. We raise a glass to absent friends, and we thank those who serve now and continue to stand on the shoulders of giants.
In my parents’ home, whenever we are celebrating, there are always open invitations for my friends, my sister’s friends, anyone who does not have a family to celebrate with, to join my parents’ table. My dad would rather borrow an extra chair and squeeze us in, rather than know that someone was alone. So my sister and I learned at my mom and dad’s table what it is to make others feel included and wanted. That’s an amazing gift they gave us, and now, in this way we can pass that forward.
So yeah, this Remembrance Season, I’m going to try harder to thank those who don’t hear it enough or don’t have a support system that makes them feel appreciated. I’m going to send some cards to Any Service Member, and going forward, I’m going to buy a box of cards after Christmas that is especially for that purpose next year.
If you can choose the path of grace and thanks, friends, let’s choose it. We get by with a little help from our friends. Even friends we haven’t met yet.