During this time of the year, the dead are often associated with spooky ghosts and scary poltergeists. The Catholic Church instead celebrates the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, a time to reflect on those who have passed from this life to eternal life in Christ.
Eminence, the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls will be celebrated soon. The People of God live these days in a profound way, which is also an occasion for reflection and prayer. Is the practice of indulgences for the deceased still valid?
Yes, certainly! On November 2, visiting a cemetery and having fulfilled the usual conditions (having gone to Confession, to Communion, having recited the Creed and prayed for the intentions of the Holy Father), it is possible to obtain a Plenary Indulgence, applicable to a deceased faithful.
Is it only possible on that day?
No, on that day it is possible to do so in a particular way by visiting a cemetery. However, it is possible to gain a Plenary Indulgence every other day of the year, by carrying out the various works of piety, contained in the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum (the compilation of ways in which it is possible to obtain the cancellation of the punishments due to sins), and to choose to apply it to oneself, or to a deceased faithful. The only “limitation” to this pious practice is that it can only be obtained once a day; therefore, one can gain only one [plenary] indulgence a day, applicable to oneself, or to a deceased faithful.
At times, in some holy cards, there are these words “100 days of indulgence, 300 days of indulgence.” How must these words be interpreted?
Until the reform of the Second Vatican Council, it was possible to find indications of this type. The correct theological reflections leads us to hold that, eternity being out of time and not a “prolonged time,” the specific indication is not opportune of the temporal punishment and the relative indulgence. Therefore, today we speak only of two types of indulgence: Plenary, when all the punishments due to sins are cancelled, or Partial, when only part of them are forgiven.
But isn’t sacramental absolution enough? Isn’t it enough to go to Confession?
The first great Reconciliation, certainly, is the event of the Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ! In Christ, all the Father’s promises became a “yes” (2 Corinthians 1:20). He is the source of mercy, the end of mercy and mercy itself. Pope Francis does not cease to remind the Church how this reality of mercy is crucial for the Christian announcement and discipleship. If you look more closely, Saint John Paul II’s admonition “Be not afraid” is in the same line of mercy. Also because, how could man not be afraid if there wasn’t the possibility of mercy? And how could mercy be a real lived experience, and not just a proclaimed word, if it didn’t determine, in the concrete existence of each one, the effective possibility of overcoming all fear thanks to the certainty of the truth, the serenity of the good and, lastly, of Christ’s victory over all the ugly things of human history?
As every human act, sins also have their consequences. The Sacrament of Reconciliation absolves from sins, but it does not eliminate all the related consequences. Through indulgences, Mother Church draws generously from the treasure of divine mercy, offering the faithful the possibility of the remission, not only of their faults, but also of the punishments due to them. For instance, if a man strikes another man, the two can reconcile themselves, but nothing will be able to cancel the pain and the sign of the slap on the cheek. Indulgences also cancel that sign. The treasure from which the Church draws and constitutes her truest and most precious richness is well understood. It is the surest and most consoling bank that exists and her shareholders are truly fortunate!
Eminence, you have said that indulgences can be applied to oneself, or to a deceased faithful. Why not to another faithful, for whom one prays? To one’s husband, one’s wife, one's children?
This isn’t possible because of the great mystery of freedom, which makes us in the image and likeness of God and that God Himself respects profoundly. Each one, while he is alive, namely, while he is in time, can change his existential choices, can decide personally to be converted, and in this sense, no one can substitute himself for the freedom of the other. Therefore, each one can gain indulgences and apply them to himself. One certainly can pray for the conversion of brothers, for the conversion of sinners but, by its nature, an indulgence is already a pious exercise, necessary for which to be fulfilled are true acts of conversion, first among which is Sacramental Reconciliation. In so far as the deceased are concerned, with their death they have left time and the gift of freedom has ceased for them. Therefore, it is always important that our freedom be oriented to the good and by no means is it prudent to remain a long time in a state of mortal sin. The souls of the deceased not being able to do anything for their purification, by virtue of the Communion of Saints, that is, of the profound unity of all the baptized in Christ, we, who are still on the way, can carry out the extraordinary work of spiritual mercy in suffrage of souls, and this for their benefit and, at the same time, also for our benefit.
Is this the reason why the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls are so reconciling? On the first and the second of November?
Since her origins, the Church certainly prayed for the deceased faithful belonging to the early Christian communities. Whether they were martyrs or ordinary faithful who died a natural death, the community understood immediately the suffrage for the deceased as a structural dimension of their life, of their prayer and, above all, of the Eucharistic celebration. As if to signify that the profound unity with Christ and in Christ, created with Baptism, and the sharing of the Eucharist itself, lived in the Christian community, could not be severed not even with death. Moreover, thinking correctly, if death has been overcome by Christ, he who is reborn in Christ can no longer be separated by anything, not even by that death that Christ has already overcome! The Solemnity of All Saints in fact brings to light the truth of the communio sanctorum, of the union of all the baptized. As Pope Francis has reminded us many times: “time prevails over space.” Therefore, the union in time of all the baptized, of the very first Christians, up to those that tomorrow morning will receive Baptism and until the end of history, is a union that nothing will be able to affect and which determines that journeying of the Church in time, which is a real anticipation, here on earth, of the Kingdom of Heaven. We belong to the one ecclesial Body that, uninterruptedly, from Jesus Christ, through the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles, comes to us and it is for this reason that the heavenly Church is much more numerous, much more interesting, much more expert and much more “influential” than the earthly Church.
For about a decade in Europe, on the night before the Solemnity of All Saints, Halloween has become a “fashionable” holiday. To what is this phenomenon due? What are your thoughts on it?
As you well said, it is about a “fashion”, which certainly also has serious implications, and not only of a consumerist order. It seems to me that I can deduce that the vast majority of youth, who organize masked celebrations on that occasion, are unwitting victims be it of the fashion or of those who at all costs must sell their commercial products, manipulating spiritual realities. I find the phenomenon so irrational that it becomes the real figure of contemporary society: one who does not believe in truth ends up by believing in anything, including pumpkins! It does not escape my attention, moreover, that in such cases this type of manifestations have a spiritualistic origin and even satanic and, therefore, by feeding them and not correcting them, youth can unwittingly become stokers of the “smoke of Satan,” which already intoxicates the world too much. We must all be very careful not to breathe the toxic fumes; sometimes that happens inadvertently. We must remember that a pumpkin, even if blessed, is always a pumpkin. And those of Halloween are not even blessed!