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The deceased and the communion of saints

EVERY YEAR, THE Church dedicates the month of November to the souls in purgatory, not only to remind us of our deceased relatives and friends, but most importantly to urge us to remember the communion of saints.

The feast encourages us to pray for the souls in purgatory so that they can be delivered from suffering.

In Chinese culture, remembering the dead through religious symbolism is a centuries-old tradition. Twice each year, Chinese people pay tribute to their ancestors; at the Ching Ming Festival and the Chung Yeung Festival.

In particular, during the Hungry Ghost Festival in the seventh month of the lunar calendar, religious rituals are extended to the mourning of unknown souls. These rituals include Chinese opera, burning paper money and distributing rice.

Some of these customs may be carried out over a whole month, reflecting the great concern the Chinese have for the deceased. Paper money, incense and joss paper are burned as offerings to the dead in the hope that they may continue their lives in the underworld.

Most importantly, the rituals reflect the hope that the deceased may benefit from the good works of the living to escape from their suffering.

We deeply believe that every soul is immortal and the month for the souls in purgatory is derived from the doctrine of the communion of saints; those in this world, the saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory. All share in the fruit of prayer and the power of God.

“In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honoured with great respect the memory of the dead; and ‘because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins,’ she offers her suffrages for them (2 Maccabees 12:45). Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 958).

“We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers” (Ibid 962).

Some may say that they don’t know about the situation of their deceased loved ones. However, the spirit of the communion of saints goes beyond the domain of relatives and friends. When we say the Lord’s Prayer, we assert that all the living and the dead are our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

When we pray and make offerings for the deceased, those who benefit lie beyond blood relationship. It is of utmost importance that we pray and make these offerings.

Thanks to the efforts of Jesus Christ, the only patron of heaven and earth, the link between the living and the dead is never broken.

A Mass offering, prayer or an act of self-denial are the best ways to remember the deceased. SE