Every morning, as I get ready for my day, I pray by name for all the people who have died in my or my wife’s family. Many of them weren’t Catholic; some weren’t even Christian; and a few did some pretty terrible things. Yet I pray for them, because our Catholic faith teaches that we can hope that all of them might ultimately be saved.
Other religions and other Christian traditions might say with great confidence that some or even all of my relatives and in-laws are now separated from God for all eternity in hell. But that’s not how we understand things. We do believe in the possibility of hell. Yet there is another possibility too. As Pope John Paul II wrote, there is “a real possibility of salvation in Christ for all humanity.” Because God is love. Because love hopes all things. Because God desires everyone to be saved. Because Jesus died and rose again.
We might say that this possibility is possible, however, only because of the reality of purgatory. Heaven is only for the perfect. And no one, when thy die, is perfect-even the saints. Everyone needs to be purified…to be made whole…to be stripped of all that is ungodly. Change like this can sometimes be painful, because we’re defensive, proud, stubborn, addicted, angry. That’s why tradition speaks of the pains of purgatory. Yet at the same time, those in purgatory are friends of God, and they know it.
And so we have hope for “all souls” who have gone before us in death. That is why we celebrate this Mass. And that is why we pray for them, every day.