As we celebrate All Soul’s Day, it might be a good idea to remember the Biblical concept of “soul” as it can apply to the current abortion debate. In Genesis 2:7, we read; Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. In other words, man (red dust or clay) was given the breath of life (spirit) and from this union a living being (soul) was created. in Hebrew the term for “soul” is “nephesh”. This soul is what makes the being a person. Unlike Greek Philosophy, which teaches that life is an incarcerated soul, the Bible teaches that life is an animated body. Therefore, the soul, life in its fullest sense, is given at the moment of conception.
All Souls’ Day has been observed on November 2 since the 11th century. The day was established by Abbot Odilo, After a pilgrim returning from the Holy Land was cast by a storm on a desolate island. A hermit living there told him that amid the rocks was a chasm communicating with purgatory, from which perpetually rose the groans of tortured souls. The hermit also claimed he had heard the demons complaining of the efficacy of the prayers of the faithful, and especially the monks of Cluny, in rescuing their victims. Upon returning home, the pilgrim hastened to inform the abbot of Cluny, who then set 2 November as a day of intercession on the part of his community for all the souls in Purgatory. Before this event, the observance was celebrated on various days.
Some denominations, like the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Easter Catholic Church, and the Eastern Lutheran Church, observe All Souls’ Day during the Easter Season. Similarly, the East Syriac Rite observe the day on the Friday before the Great Feast. In Roman Catholicism, a day for commemoration of all the faithful departed, those baptized Christians who are believed to be in purgatory because they died with the guilt of lesser sins on their souls. It is still observed on November 2. Roman Catholic doctrine holds that the prayers of the faithful on earth will help cleanse these souls in order to fit them for the vision of God in heaven, and the day is dedicated to prayer and remembrance. Requiem masses are commonly held, and many people visit and sometimes decorate the graves of loved ones. The date, which became practically universal before the end of the 13th century, was chosen to follow All Saints’ Day. Having celebrated the feast of all the members of the church who are believed to be in heaven, the church on earth turns, on the next day, to commemorate those souls believed to be suffering in purgatory.
Purgatory is necessary so that souls can be cleansed and perfected before they enter into heaven. There is scriptural basis for this belief. The primary reference is in 2 Maccabees, 12:26 and 12:32. "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." Additional references are found in Zechariah, Sirach, and the Gospel of Matthew. Jewish tradition also reinforces this belief as well as the tradition and teaching of the Church, which has been affirmed throughout history.
Consistent with these teachings and traditions, Catholics believe that through the prayers of the faithful on Earth, the dead are cleansed of their sins so they may enter into heaven. The importance of All Souls Day was made clear by Pope Benedict XV (1914-22) when he granted all priests the privilege of celebrating three Masses on All Souls Day: one for the faithful departed; one for the priest's intentions; and one for the intentions of the Holy Father. On only a handful of other very important feast days are priests allowed to celebrate more than two Masses.
Therefore, the ancient teachings from the Creation account in the Bible still resonate today. In one of many instances, faith and science have come to the same conclusion. With this pair of monolithic thoughts, arguments against life beginning at conception are like dust in the wind. So, let us remember the souls that have gone before us, and learn from the history of teachings on souls.