Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed
All Souls Day
November 2, 2016
Lake Charles, Louisiana
“Thus, he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.” II Maccabees 12:46
Those words were written as a commentary on the actions of the great Jewish leader, Judas Maccabeus. Following a battle in which numerous Jewish soldiers had fallen in pursuit of a righteous cause, he discovered the deceased were suspected of idolatry by flirting with pagan idols. They had sinned and yet at the same time were killed fighting for a good cause, the preservation of the Jewish people from domination by the Greek Gentiles.
So, “Judas… took up a collection among all his soldiers… to provide for an expiatory sacrifice” (II Macc. 12:43). The sacred writer commented, “In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death” (II Macc. 12:44).
Praying for the dead was a sign of hope, a testimonial to the power of God to save, a proof that the living could assist the dead with their prayers. Some will say that Maccabees is not a canonical text and thus remove it from the Bible. On whose authority, I ask, do they do this? Do not Maccabees preserve the story of Hanukkah which celebrates to this day for the Jews the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem following its desecration during the Seleucid Empire? The Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah, gives testimony also to the importance of this sacred writing.
But more than anything else this writing from Maccabees prepares the way in our hearts and minds for the ultimate “atonement for the dead” that we celebrate as Catholics in the Paschal mystery. Jesus Christ frees us from sin and death. This is the victory. “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
For this reason, we are here tonight. We celebrate the great victory. We join our deceased to the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. And what a potent sacrifice it is! With the wise virgins in the Gospel, our lamps are burning bright. We have oil in our lamps. We are ready to welcome the Lord. If our deceased are like the fallen in Maccabees, in need of forgiveness and further cleansing, then let the overwhelming mercy of God flow forth from the same sacrifice that Jesus offered, and let us be one with them. The old rites of the Temple have passed away, but what we have is a much more perfect Temple, Jesus Christ, our Lord, in whom we boast and “through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11).
May the souls of our faithful departed rest in eternal peace. Amen.