Last Thursday evening I visited the Goan cemetery in Pune where my younger brother Robert Gonsalves was buried five years ago. I decorated his grave with flowers and lit candles. The occasion was All Souls Day celebrated by Christendom the world over. The cemetery was decorated with flowers of all hues, candles and every grave was aglow with decorations and lights as night fell. The white Moon in the starry sky peeped from behind the mango and jambul (jamun) trees. If there’s heaven on earth, it seemed to me, it could be here.
In the tradition of the Catholic Church, All Souls Day is a holy day set aside for honouring the dead. The day is also celebrated as such in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and a few other denominations of Christianity. The Anglican Church is the largest protestant church to celebrate the holy day. Most protestant denominations do not recognise the holiday and disagree with the theology behind it.
However, according to Catholic teachings and belief, the soul of a person who dies can go to one of three places. The first is heaven, where a person who dies in a state of perfect grace and communion with god goes. The second is hell, where those who die in a state of mortal sin are naturally condemned by their choice. The intermediate option is purgatory, which is thought to be where most people, free of mortal sin, but still in a state of lesser (venial) sin, must go.
According to the Catholic teaching purgatory is necessary so that souls can be cleansed and perfected before they enter into heaven. There is scriptural basis for this old belief. The primary reference is in the book of 2 Maccabees (Ch. 12:26 and Ch. 12:32) of the Bible, “Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out... Thus made atonement for the dead that they might be free from sin.” More references are found in Zechariah, Sirach, and the Gospel of Matthew.
Catholics believe that through the prayers of the faithful on earth, the dead are cleansed of their sins so they may enter heaven. That is why we plead each other for prayers even after we bid final goodbye. But when we still have the opportunity, it is more important to discover heaven in our very heart and live a life worthy of it.
— Michael Gonsalves