Under a tent in Calvary Cemetery, Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre celebrated his first Mass to commemorate the feast of All Souls in the Archdiocese of Louisville Nov. 2.
As close to 200 people gathered with him to remember deceased loved ones, the archbishop pointed to the hope found in the church’s teachings on purgatory. The church, he said, is often ridiculed for this teaching, or sometimes the doctrine is forgotten.
“But it’s a hopeful doctrine, saying that God gives us every single opportunity to live eternally with him. And because of the bonds of love and friendship that knit us together, our loved ones do benefit from our prayers and our memories and that’s what brings us here today,” said Archbishop Fabre.
He shared with his listeners that British author G.K. Chesterton found the Catholic Church’s doctrine on purgatory very hopeful. Chesterton wrote that, upon dying, individuals do not deserve hell because they’ve done their best, but neither do they deserve heaven right away because of sins that still cling to them, the archbishop noted.
“If heaven is a place of perfection, then I must be purged of the final vestiges of sin to enter the perfection that is heaven,” he said, paraphrasing Chesterton.
Souls in purgatory benefit from the prayers and the good works of those still on earth, Archbishop Fabre said.
“The saints don’t need our prayer. They are already enjoying the beatific vision of God,” he noted. “What brings us here today is the love for our departed loved ones who are still being purified on their journey into heaven … those for whom we pray, asking God’s mercy be poured out on them so they may enter into all that God promised to them in baptism.”
Visiting a cemetery is not the only way to remember and pray for the dead, the archbishop noted, but it is a “beautiful way.”
“To come to that place where their bodies rest, to utter a prayer for them and to remember that, one day, I will make my bed in this place as well, but until that day let me do all that I can to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ,” he said. “So that upon my death, my purging might occur as rapidly as possible so that I might enter into that union with Jesus Christ like the saints.”
At the close of the Mass, Archbishop Fabre shared that in south Louisiana, where he is from, the feasts of All Saints and All Souls are big events. Crowds of people visit cemeteries and families “dress up” the graves of their deceased loved ones.
In his absence this year, his brother kept the tradition for both of them, he said.
As customary in Louisiana, too, on All Souls’ Day, the archbishop called down God’s blessings on Calvary Cemetery. The archbishop prayed that God would send his angels to guard it and to bring peace to those who visit.