When it came time for me to decide on a topic to research and write on for my Master’s Thesis in the seminary, I chose to write in the area of ecclesiology, which is the study of the Church. When I told my classmates about it, they did not sound terribly impressed, as they thought it sounded like a rather dry topic. But I persevered and as I did my work, I grew very much in my knowledge of the Church. More importantly, though, I grew in my love for the Church!
As we enter into the month of November, I like to think of this month as a month during which our attention is especially focused on the Church. Let me explain why I say that. On November 1, we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. This day draws our attention to what we call the Church Triumphant. The saints who are in Heaven still very much belong to the Church. Their membership in the Church highlights the important point that even though they no longer enjoy physical communion with us here on earth, they are still united to us though the bond of faith that was given to them (and us) on the day of Baptism. We call those in Heaven part of the Church Triumphant because they are sharing in the triumphal victory that Christ has won for them through His Death and Resurrection, a victory that is extended in a final and lasting way to all of those who complete their earthly journey united to Him through grace as members of the Church.
On the following day, November 2, we celebrate the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, also known as All Souls Day. On this day in a special way, and throughout the entire month of November in a general way, we pray for those members of the Church who have died and are awaiting their being welcomed into the Church Triumphant. We call those who have died and are in this state of waiting members of the Church Suffering. They are undergoing any purification that is necessary for them to be fully prepared for Heaven. Once again, death does not separate these souls from membership in the Church. As their brothers and sisters in the faith, we offer our prayers and sacrifices on their behalf so that the purgation of the effects of their sins will be accomplished, thus the name Purgatory that is given to those who are in this state. The members of the Church Suffering have a painful ache for Heaven which is guaranteed to them, but which is not yet something they can fully embrace. Therefore, we aid them so as to relieve that suffering, and we look forward to benefitting from their prayers when they do arrive at their reward.
Finally, for us who remain in the Church here below, we continue to struggle against our weaknesses and the obstacles the devil and the world place before us. It is for that reason that this state in the Church in which we find ourselves is known as the Church Militant. This battle is waged with the graces the Church offers to us in the sacraments and by following the teachings of Christ and His Church. Our victory is assured if we continue to follow under the banner of our triumphant King, Jesus Christ, who has already won the victory and who never ceases to offer us the help we need to be among the victors at the end of our lives. It is therefore fitting for us to celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King toward the end of November on the last Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Let us be ever mindful of the beauty of this Church to which we belong by calling upon the intercession of those who are in Heaven to help us with their prayers, by praying for those in Purgatory who need our help to get to Heaven, and by praying for and helping one another who remain here below to journey together along this journey as we look forward to all of us being one day among the members of the Church Triumphant in Heaven.