Today is All Souls Day, the Day of the Dead. Last night I offered a celestial sung High Mass for All Saints in a church full of holy people, and truly I felt as if I were already in heaven. Today we lower our eyes to those in purgatory, joining our suffering to theirs. The greatest suffering, certainly, is to be not yet perfectly with God. To help us remember the Holy Souls, we set up an All Souls Altar every November in the church with pictures of our loved ones who have died.

Even yesterday (before the All Souls Altar officially began), fifty pictures of our beloved dead had already been placed under the great marble statue of Our Lady. On November 2nd I put $100 into the offering box  for a month’s worth of candles. Every day of November I will light three little candles and kneel in front of these pictures, under Our Lady’s image, to say a prayer for their deliverance from purgatory.

If these holy people are already in heaven, my prayers will go to them there, begging their prayers for my own deliverance. Certainly, the Holy Souls pray for us as we pray for them. It is said that their prayers, in particular, are most effective in obtaining healing for our bodily illnesses, and giving us strength of will to suffer what we must in this life.

I’ve placed photographs of my grandmother, my uncle, and my mother at the November Altar, and this year I will add pictures of my maternal grandparents and paternal grandfather. I love to look at these hundreds of pictures, fascinating and wonderful historical images of real people. They show people on earth, but they also show what they look in heaven, because God conserves our essential identities.

People do not lose their personal identity after death, and I will still be Joseph Peter Illo in the next life just as I am in this life. Our bodies, our psyches, and our souls will be glorified, purified, and perfected, but not essentially changed. That is why looking upon these images is looking into heaven. That is why we are fascinated by pictures of real people, especially after they have died. That is why many cultures place images of the deceased on their graves. The dead do not disappear, but they take their individuality either to heaven or to hell.

“For I know,” the prophet Job writes, “that my redeemer lives, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” Our Lady’s Assumption is the clearest promise of the hope to which we cling. God took her, body and soul, into heaven, where she reigns with her Son. And that is why we place the photographs of our beloved dead on her altar. She looks upon all these pictures too, interceding for the souls of the faithful departed with us.

The above comes from a Nov. 2 posting on Father Illo’s blog. Father is pastor of Star of the Sea in San Francisco.