By Joseph Sinasac, Publishing Director

November is a gray, sombre month, perfect for remembering and venerating the dead. This practice has its variations in cultures around the world and goes back centuries. While it has waned in traditionally Christian countries, people can still be seen visiting their beloved departed in cemeteries this month.

We start to mark the occasion with Halloween, traditionally the eve of All Saints Day, Nov. 1, during which we celebrate those who have passed on to paradise. But on Nov. 2, we turn to those in purgatory, celebrating All Souls day.

This day is officially known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. Its practice stems from the ancient Christian belief that those of us on earth can influence the fate of the souls in purgatory through prayer and intercession, most notably in the Mass.

The notion of purgatory has fallen out of fashion these days, but it has never disappeared from Catholic doctrine. It is the idea that before partaking of the beatific vision, departed souls — being sinful as are we all — must go through a period of cleansing to prepare themselves for all of eternity in Heaven.

This is neither a time nor a place, being free of all material constraints. It is more of a state of being where we wait in longing to be allowed to be in the presence of God. Prayer from those still on earth is believed to help ease the passage of the faithful departed.

For those of us still on earth, this day can connect us in a very real way with our loved ones who have died. We remember them, miss them, recall their presence in our lives. And by praying for them, we reconnect with our own membership in the great communion of saints to which we all belong.

All Souls is a great reminder that we are not alone on this earth, nor that our presence on this planet is the only reality. At such a dark time of year, this is a comforting thought.

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