Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

November 2, 2015

All Souls’ Day and Why Catholics Pray for the Dead: A November Exercise

At the conclusion of most of our school-wide communal prayers at Bishop McNamara High School (Forestville, Maryland), we readily request “Saint André Bessette, pray for us! Blessed Basil Moreau, pray for us!” These two holy men of God (the first a humble Holy Cross Brother and the second the devout founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross) are powerful intercessors to whom the members of our high school community have a deep devotion, as we likewise do to Saint Joseph and Our Lady of Sorrows, in keeping with the charism of Holy Cross. Is your Catholic school named for any particular saint(s), or does it otherwise have a devotion to particular saints and/or blesseds? If so, do your students ever ask why you communally and collectively invoke their intercession to God in heaven? Similarly, does your Catholic educational institution pray for those loved ones within your extended school community who have passed away?

November 1 and November 2 are two very special days in the liturgical life of the Church. On the one hand, we prayerfully ask the saints to intercede to God for us in a special way on All Saints’ Day (November 1), while on the other hand, we commemorate and pray for the souls of all of our faithful departed on All Souls’ Day (November 2). An interesting dynamic is that the latter of these two days likewise involves asking the saints in heaven to intercede to God for the dead whose souls might be in Purgatory. Beyond merely these two days, we can thus pray constantly throughout the year, although especially during the month of November.

The theology teacher has the ability to rely on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day as key opportunities to explain to students why (and how) the Catholic Church advocates for both asking for the intercession of the saints and praying for the dead (whose souls could be in Purgatory). There are numerous commonly-occurring misconceptions regarding the Church’s teachings on these profound theological topics, and they deserve thorough clarification. Of particular note, both practices are based on the duality of the Deposit of Faith – Sacred Scripture (stemming from passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament) and Sacred Tradition (having been Church practice for nearly two-thousand years [and even earlier if we consider the broader expanse of salvation history]). Since previous posts have focused on All Saints’ Day, below are some resources on All Souls’ Day in more particular terms, which the theology teacher can use for deepening his or her content knowledge, as well as to foster classroom discussions regarding the Church’s practice of praying for the dead. There are many resources available, but here are some prominent ones that can help guide your discussions especially throughout the month of November:

“All Saints and All Souls” by Fr. William Saunders (Courtesy of the Catholic Education Resource Center)

“All Souls’ Day” (Courtesy of the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia)

“What Catholics Believe: 10 Truths about Purgatory” by Valerie Schmalz, writing for Catholic San Francisco (the publication of the Archdiocese of San Francisco)

The Section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church Regarding Purgatory (Paragraphs #1030-#1032)

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