All Souls: A Day for Hope and Grief | David Paul Deavel | Catholic World Report
The continuing connection of the dead to the living highlights the paradox at the heart of Catholic teachings on death.
All Saints’ Day is one of those ecumenically happy events. While some Protestants object to the Catholic practice of declaring specific individuals saints in a way different from other people, most don’t have a problem with celebrating the reality that is depicted in John’s glimpse of heaven in the Book of Revelation—martyrs and virgins and great multitudes from all nations praising the Lamb who was slain. Even the Protestants who reject All Saints’ entirely and opt for “Reformation Day” generally tend to celebrate a particular band of “saints” like Martin Luther and John Calvin who, they say, returned Christianity to its pristine state.
All Souls’ Day, on the other hand, takes part in the paradoxical nature of Catholic teaching on the reality of death.
This paradoxical nature, Catholics claim, comes directly from the very foundations of Christianity. Jesus of Nazareth, building upon the preaching of the Hebrew prophecies, proclaims to his audience that the Kingdom of God is both here and now and…is coming soon. His resurrection from the dead is the definitive sign that for human beings, death is no longer the last word. Various cultures and religions have claimed that the soul survives death, but the Christian claim is startlingly new. It’s not just that you will exist as a lonely soul floating around in a dark, dank land of the dead, as so many of the ancient civilizations believed. It’s that you will be given a new and imperishable body. Your dead body, says St. Paul, echoing Jesus himself, is like a kernel of wheat “buried” in the ground. The transformation that takes place from seed to plant is like that from an earthly body to a heavenly resurrected body. In view of this reality, St. Paul writes to the infant Church gathered at the Greek city of Corinth, quoting the Hebrew Prophets Isaiah and Hosea: “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is they victory? O death where is thy sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:54-5).
And even before that marvelous day of the final Resurrection, it is still true, says St. Paul, that to be “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8)—and is thus a good thing. Thus, one side of the argument, and a strong one at that, echoing down through the centuries, is that death is indeed a good thing, something to be celebrated and not grieved. The Mass is itself a memorial not just of Christ’s death but also his resurrection. “We are a resurrection people,” said St. Augustine (354-430) in one of his homilies. The significance of death is that one has entered into the presence of God and is now preparing for the resurrection.