As Catholics, we are mindful and profess in our Creed that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. The Second Vatican Council’s “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” states, “Already the final age of the world is with us and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real though imperfect” (No. 48). To try to grasp the when, what and how of this Second Coming and last judgment, we really need to glean the various passages in Sacred Scripture to see how our Church has interpreted them. They are united in one drama.
Our Lord in the Gospel spoke of His second coming. He indicated that various signs would mark the event. Mankind would suffer from famine, pestilence and natural disasters. False prophets who claim to be the Messiah will deceive and mislead people. Nations will wage war against each other. The Church will endure persecution. Worse yet, the faith of many will grow cold and they will abandon the faith, even betraying and hating one another. (Confer Mt. 24:4-14; Lk 17:22-37) The Catechism affirms, “God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the last judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world” (No. 667). Our Lord will come suddenly. “The Son of Man in His day will be like the lightening that flashes from one end of the sky to the other” (Lk 17:24). St. Peter predicts, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief and on that day the heavens will vanish with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire and the earth and all its deeds will be made manifest” (2 Pt 3:10).
Death will be no more. The dead shall rise and those souls who have died will be united again to their bodies. All will have a glorious, transformed, spiritualized body as St. Paul said, “He will give a new form to this lowly body of ours and remake it according to the pattern of His glorified body…” (Phil 3:21).
At this time, the final, or general judgment will occur. Jesus said, “Those who have done right shall rise to life; the evildoers shall rise to be damned” (Jn 5:29). Our Lord described this judgment as follows: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, escorted by all the angels of heaven, He will sit upon His royal throne and all the nations will be assembled before Him. Then He will separate them into two groups, as a shepherd separated sheep from goats” (Mt 25:31-32).
Here each person will have to account for his conduct and the deepest secrets of his soul will come to light. How well each person has responded to the prompting of God’s grace will be made clear. Our attitude and actions toward our neighbor will reflect how well we have loved our Lord. “As often as you did it for one of My least brothers, you did it for Me” (Mt 25:41).
Our Lord will judge us accordingly. For those who have died and already have faced the particular judgment, their judgment will stand. Those living at the time of the Second Coming will receive judgment. Those who have rejected the Lord in this life, who have sinned mortally,, who have no remorse for sin and do not seek forgiveness, will have condemned themselves to hell for all eternity. “By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love (Catechism, No. 678). The souls of the righteous will enter heavenly glory and enjoy the beatific vision and those who need purification will undergo it.
We do not know when the Second Coming will occur. Jesus said, “As to the exact day or hour, no one knows it, neither the angels in heaven nor even the Son, but only the Father. Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come” (Mk 13:32-33).
PRAYING TO SAINTS FOR HEAVENLY HELP
FROM GOD’S MOST GRACIOUS FRIENDS
Some people ask “Why say prayers to saints? Shouldn’t all our prayers be to God?” Praying to the saints is praying to God, in a fundamental way. We’re praying to those who can ask God to help us in our various needs in accordance with His will.
When you ask someone to pray for you, are you worshiping that person? Of course not! It’s the same when we ask the saints to pray for us! In our prayers to saints we ask them to “put in a good word” for us with God in Heaven. They are not the focus of our worship, God is.
In this regard, it is worth noting that many compilations of prayers to saints also include prayers by them as well, to our Lord. The important thing to remember is that all these prayers have the same Divine destination, for our salvation.
The authors of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (“light of the nations”) noted that it was important that we “suppliantly invoke” the saints and “have recourse to their prayers, their power and help in obtaining benefits from God through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is our Redeemer and Saviour.”
In the saints we have, as advocates, members of what is called the Church Triumphant (those already in heaven.) We on earth are part of the Church Militant.
In addition, with the Church Suffering (those in purgatory) we all make up what is known as the Communion of Saints, part of one glorious mystical body of Christ in His Church. We are truly all in this together!
Note that the saints had their weaknesses and struggles just we do. But they also had a tremendous devotion to God. They became canonized (that is to say, officially recognized) as Catholic Saints after their deaths. This was usually done after a lengthy review of both the holiness of their lives and two miracles associated with them. Keep in mind that God also calls on us to be saints. If this seems like too tall an order, remember that, with God’s help we can live our lives reflecting His love and goodness, letting Him work through us, just like the saints!
PRAYING FOR OUR DECEASED LOVED ONES
The earliest Scriptural reference to prayers for the dead comes in the second book of Maccabees. The books of Maccabees were among the latest written books found in the Old Testament. They recount the struggle of the Jewish people for freedom against the Seleucid Empire, around 100-200 years before the birth of Christ. They are written from an Orthodox Jewish point of view. The second book of Maccabees tells how Judas Maccabee, the Jewish leader, led his troops into battle in 163 B.C. When the battle ended he directed that the bodies of those Jews who had died be buried. As soldiers prepared their slain comrades for burial, they discovered that each was wearing an amulet taken as booty from a pagan Temple. This violated the law of Deuteronomy and so Judas and his soldiers prayed that God would forgive the sin these men had committed (II Maccabees 12:39-45).
This is the first indication in the Bible of a belief that prayers offered by the living can help free the dead from any sin that would separate them from God in the life to come. It is echoed in the New Testament when Paul offers a prayer for a man named Onesiphorus who had died: “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day”(II Timothy 1:18). The cavelike tombs under the city of Rome, which we call catacombs, bear evidence that members of the Roman Christian community gathered there to pray for their fellow followers of Christ who lay buried there. By the fourth century prayers for the dead are mentioned in Christian literature as though they were already a longstanding custom.
The practice of praying for the dead is rooted first in Christian belief in the everlasting life promised in Jesus’ teachings and foreshadowed by his disciple’s experience that God had raised him from the dead. After death, even though separated from our earthly body, we yet continue a personal existence. It is as living persons that God invites us into a relationship whose life transcends death.
Praying for the dead has further origins in our belief in the communion of saints. Members of this community who are living often assist each other in faith by prayers and other forms of spiritual support. Christians who have died continue to be members of the communion of saints. We believe that we can assist them by our prayers, and they can assist us by theirs.
Our prayers for the dead begin at the moment of death. Often family members will gather in prayer around the bedside of the person who has died. The Order of Christian Funerals includes a Vigil Service for the deceased, which can be held in the home, in the church, or in a funeral home chapel, the funeral Mass and the Rite of Committal (which generally takes place at the burial site). The prayers express hope that God will free the person who has died from any burden of sin and prepare a place for him or her in heaven. Death remains a mystery for us–a great unknown. Yet Christian language evokes a hopeful imagination in the presence of death, an assurance that our love, linked to Christ’s love, can help bridge whatever barriers might keep those whom we love from fully enjoying the presence of a loving and life-giving God.
On November 2, the Feast of All Souls, we call to mind all those who have died, especially those closest to us, as we pray:
Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen
Prayer for the Dead
God our Father,
Your power brings us to birth,
Your providence guides our lives,
and by your command we return to dust.
Lord, those who have died still live in your presence,
their lives change but do not end.
I pray and hope for my family, relatives and friends
and for all the dead known to you alone.
In company with Christ,
Who died and now lives,
may they rejoice in your kingdom
where all our tears are wiped away.
Unite us together again in one family,
to sing your praise forever and ever.
Sacred Reception of Holy Communion
Welcome to St. Francis De Sales Parish! As a vibrant Catholic community, our behaviour and attitudes in church rest on the following two fundamental principles:
The Church is a Sacred Space and a Sacred Place
It is the “House of our Lord”, where we come to praise, worship, and give thanks to God and to spend quality time with Him.
Mass is a Holy and Sacred Act
It is during the Mass that all the graces and merits of our Lord’s sacrifice are applied to our souls in a sacramental fashion. We encounter our God in a most intimate and awesome way and receive Him in the most real way possible, the Eucharist—if we are properly disposed.
As we remember these, the following points will undoubtedly make perfect sense in respecting the sacred reception of Holy Communion.
- Fast before Mass—at least one hour before receiving Communion. Exceptions: food for medications & water.
- Please no food or drink in the Church. Exceptions: drinks for children & water for the sick. Please do not chew gum or bring coffee cups into the church. It breaks your fast, it is distracting and impolite!
- Who may receive Communion? All Catholics of age, in union with the local bishop and Pope, not under any unconfessed, grave or serious sin, or in any irregular marital situation, and who have followed the Eucharistic fast, may receive Holy Communion.
- Communion means for Catholics: “union with.” It is the true Body and Blood of Christ sacramentally made present, but it is also a sign of our communion with each other who are in communion with the Church, its bishops and all in communion with the Holy Father. For that reason, we regret that it would be a false sign for those not in communion to receive the Eucharist. This is not a moral judgment or condemnation on your person! We pray for the day when the Church is truly one and universal once again! Make a “spiritual communion” instead, if you wish (offering to God your great desire to receive communion when you can), or pray as you wish.
- If you cannot receive for any reason, that is fine. You may come up for a blessing as communion is being distributed, just cross your arms in front of your chest, and you will receive a blessing. You may also remain seated and continue with your prayer. There is no obligation to come up.
- Those who can receive may receive on the tongue or on the hand. Both are appropriately permitted. Please do not “grab” the Host from the priest’s or Eucharistic minister’s hand.
- Please consume the Host immediately in front of the priest or Eucharistic minister. This is to protect the sacrament from any abuse or profanation. Intinction (“dipping” the Host in the Precious Blood) is not allowed.
- When the Eucharistic minister presents the Host and says “The Body of Christ”, the proper response is “Amen!” This indicates that you know and believe that who you are about to receive is Jesus himself.
- When you get back to your space, please kneel or sit quietly. Use the time for silent prayer & reflection. Sacred silence is most appreciated in the church.
- Please stay until the end of Mass! Please do not sneak out after Communion. The Mass is not truly over until the priest has left the altar and, more politely, until after the recessional hymn is completed, since it is, after all a sung prayer.
- Please leave the Church quietly, reverently and respectfully.