Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed
What does the word “suffrage” bring to mind?
“Suffrage” as a word meaning, “the right to vote,”
first appears in 1787, in the U.S. Constitution.
“Suffrage” had a more general meaning of “lending support”
(hence the connection with voting—supporting a candidate).
But the word first appeared in the English language
all the way back in the 1300’s with a rather different sense:
that of pleading or praying on another’s behalf—
particularly, on behalf of the dead.
(Now, I could make some snarky comment here
about what many of our political candidates
have in common with those who are dead and buried…
…but that would get me off track!)
It is a basic human instinct to pray and to plead,
to make offerings in suffrage for the dead.
We see that played out in our first reading,
as Judas Maccabeus takes up a collection
that a sacrifice may be offered in the Temple
on behalf of his fallen soldiers
for the forgiveness their sins. (2 Macc 12:43-46)
This same instinct lies behind our Catholic funeral rites,
the ancient custom of having Masses offered for the dead,
and today’s commemoration of All Souls Day.
But I fear we’re losing this sense of suffrage.
Many funerals today are referred to as “celebrations of life,”
and are focused more on comforting the living (albeit an importnat thing)
than on making any atonement for the dead.
And when folks request Masses for their departed loved ones,
the emphasis seems to fall on hearing their names read from the pulpit,
rather than the sacrifice—of infinite merit—offered upon the altar.
Talk turns to keeping the memory of the dead
alive in our hearts and minds…
…but what would be left, then, when our memories fade?
Wouldn’t the focus be better placed
on reminding God about the dead—
since to live on in God's memory is, in fact, to live forever?
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, once wrote:
I would go so far as to say that if there were no purgatory,
then we would have to invent it,
for who would dare say of himself
that he was able to stand directly before God. (God and the World, 2002)
For those who die in God’s friendship,
the work of our purification goes on
until we are made ready to enter the fullness of his presence.
We may not be able to raise the dead,
as Jesus did his dear friend, Lazarus. (Jn 11:32-45)
But the bonds of love and affection endure beyond the grave,
and we owe it to our deceased family and friends
to lift them up in prayer before the Father,
assisting them on their journey to heaven’s endless joy.
There is an interesting connection that can be made
between the two meanings of “suffrage.”
If you help vote a candidate into office,
doesn’t he or she owe you something?
(And, no…I’m not talking about buying or selling your vote.)
An elected official has a duty
to then represent your needs and interests.
Now, imagine that you’ve helped someone get
not into elected office, but into paradise.
Talk about having friends in high places…
…and ones who will be eternally grateful!
Consider how well they would then represent you—
your needs and your interests—before God.
Let us not neglect our duty
to offer prayerful sacrifice in suffrage for the faithful departed—
and not just for our own loved ones,
but also for the forgotten dead,
those for whom there is no one else to pray.
We believe that we shall see the good things of the Lord
in the land of the living. (Psalm 27)
In the communion of the saints, between this life and the next,
let us continually implore God’s mercy
on behalf of one another.