The circle of prayer and Christian witness was strong and unbroken.
Students, teachers and friends of St. Joseph School in Westphalia had followed their pastor, Father Dylan Schrader, in a procession from the church to the parish cemetery to pray for the souls who have gone before them.
It was Nov. 2, All Souls Day.
“It’s important for us to remember the people who have died, who loved us,” said St. Joseph School seventh-grader Ty Brandt. “We need to pray for them so they can make it to their goal, which is heaven.”
Ty had been aquatinted with at least four people in his extended family who are now at rest in St. Joseph Cemetery.
“I pray for them to make it to heaven and that they have a good eternal life,” he said.
Fifth-grader Audra Fennewald’s grandmother, Dorothy Fennewald, died on Oct. 9 and was laid to rest in the cemetery Oct. 14.
“I want her to remember me and everybody else — our cousins and the rest of our family,” said Audra.
She said it’s good to pray for her grandmother and everyone else who has died.
“We need to remember them and thank God for them,” she said.
Ty said he knows his deceased loved ones intercede constantly for him, his family and his classmates.
He hopes they will pray “that I’ll have the life that they had and that I make it to the right place: heaven.”
The students, teachers and a handful of adult parishioners gathered in the courtyard of St. Joseph Church after the Mass for All Souls Day.
Fr. Schrader, wearing a black cope and stole, led the procession, with altar servers carrying a crucifix and holy water.
The sun was bright, the air was cool, and the trees with their fading fall colors swayed gently against the vivid blue sky.
The procession followed the path of countless ancestors and forebears in faith, past several blocks of homes and weathered-stone retaining walls along the blocks between the church and the cemetery.
Fr. Schrader entered through the iron gate as some of the students were still leaving the churchyard.
He stopped in front of the crucifix and burial places of four priests with ties to the parish.
The congregants processed around the circle surrounding the crucifix and formed an unbroken circle of prayer.
Many of the children at St. Joseph School are direct descendants of people who settled in the area in the early 19th century and helped establish St. Joseph Parish in 1833.
As such, they are related to numerous people in the cemetery whose earthly remains await the Resurrection.
Surnames having proliferated all over Central Missouri speak out in large letters from the granite, marble and sandstone markers.
“I found a bunch of Boessens!” one of the children told her friends as they headed off in that direction.
Being made perfect
Catholics observe the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day) by praying for all people who died in God’s grace and friendship but are still being purified of any earthly attachment to sin before spending eternity with God in heaven.
The students knew what they were doing and why it was important.
At Mass, they had heard readings proclaiming that the souls of the just people who have died will be greatly blessed, having only been chastised a little, through God’s grace and mercy (Wisdom 3:1-9).
They heard that in the life to come, they and their loved ones will be like God, “for we shall see Him as He is,” and that He will make them pure “as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).
They heard Jesus’s own promise that He will give rest to all who are weary and burdened (Matthew 11:25-30).
Fr. Schrader called to mind the previous day’s celebration of All Saints Day.
“We honored the saints in heaven: that is, people who are already in heaven who are praying for us,” he stated in his homily.
“Today, we are praying for those who have died who are on their way to heaven,” he said.
He noted how people can be friends with God but still have an earthly attachment to sin — “things that are not perfect in us.”
There can be no sin in heaven, not even little sins.
“And God wants us to be perfectly united to Him!” Fr. Schrader proclaimed. “He wants us to be perfectly connected to Him.”
So those sins have to be “cleaned up,” and those souls purified by God’s love.
God provides such a process of purification between when a person dies and when he or she enters into heaven.
“God takes those things away from their soul so that their soul can be perfectly united with Him,” Fr. Schrader explained.
People who are still living can help by praying frequently for people who have died.
“That’s what we do at Funeral Masses, and that’s also what we’re doing today,” Fr. Schrader noted. “We’re praying for all those who have died, who are still being purified in a process that we call purgatory.”
“They’re on their way to heaven, they will eventually get to heaven,” he said. “But they need our prayers to help them.”
He pointed out that he was wearing black vestments for this Mass — “to remind us that even Jesus cried when His friend Lazarus died.”
“Even though, as Christians, we have hope for eternal life, we have hope for the resurrection, death can still be a sad thing,” he said.
This is especially true when family members, loved ones or friends die. But praying to help them on their journey can take away some of that sadness.
“All Souls Day is a very special day,” Fr. Schrader noted. “Yesterday, we honored the saints in heaven. And today, we’re praying for ... those who ... are on their way to heaven.
“We pray that God may unite all of us one day in His heavenly kingdom!” he said.
“Pray for them”
In the cemetery, Fr. Schrader led the praying of a Litany of Saints.
Instead of responding, “Pray for us” after the name of each saint, the people answered, “Pray for them.”
The students then explored the cemetery and visited the burial places of loved ones, friends and ancestors as Fr. Schrader sprinkled holy water over the graves.
Several students paused at the resting place of a young man who had died in a car crash shortly after graduating from nearby Fatima High School this past summer.
He was a star of the school’s cross country team. Current team members make a point of running past his burial place, which is temporarily adorned with his running shoes and other mementos.
Fr. Schrader, after blessing that and other burial places throughout the cemetery, returned to the circle to bless the four priests’ graves.
He closed with a prayer for the faithful departed and with a blessing for everyone present, and the students walked back to school.