Is death the last sleep? No–it is the last and final awakening.
-Sir Walter Scott
“As (Saint) Dominic lay on his deathbed surrounded by his sorrowful brethren, he consoled them saying, “Do not weep. I will be of more use to you in Heaven.” Dominic’s words offered deep hope, extending beyond his death to the death of each member of the Order. “
We all have lost loved ones, some so early in their life, others who had been with us for a good long while. But for those left behind, the sense of loss can be almost too much to bear. Yet we know in our hearts that we shall see our loved ones again, that we will all be reunited with each other—in our heavenly Father’s kingdom. So until that time, we remember them with love, and offer up prayers for their soul.
Today, November 2nd, we celebrate the Feast of All Souls. On the day after All Saints, the Church reminds us of those who have not yet achieved the goal of their pilgrimage, the Kingdom of Heaven. As part of the communion of saints, they need our prayers. Today’s feast is an opportunity for us to pray in unity for our relatives and friends and for those who have no one to pray for them. All Soul’s Day (sometimes called the “Day of the Dead”) is always November 2 (November 3rd if the 2nd falls on a Sunday).
All Soul’s Day is a Roman Catholic day of remembrance for friends and loved ones who have passed away. This comes from the ancient Pagan Festival of the Dead, which celebrated the Pagan belief that the souls of the dead would return for a meal with the family. Candles in the window would guide the souls back home, and another place was set at the table. Children would come through the village, asking for food to be offered symbolically to the dead, then donated to feed the hungry.
The day purposely follows All Saint’s Day in order to shift the focus from those in heaven to those in purgatory. It is celebrated with Masses and festivities in honor of the dead. While the Feast of All Saints is a day to remember the glories of Heaven and those there, the Feast of All Souls reminds us of our obligations to live holy lives and that there will be purification of the souls of those destined for Heaven.
Upon death, it is believed that souls have not yet been cleansed of sin. Praying for souls of loved ones helps to remove the stain of sin, and allow the souls to enter the pearly gates of heaven. Through prayer and good works, living members of the church may help their departed friends and family. There are three Requiem Masses that are said by the clergy to assist the souls from Purgatory to Heaven: one for the celebrant, one for the departed, and one for the pope. One such reading for the Mass is included in the Book of Wisdom:
“The souls of the just are in the hand of God
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.”
The traditions of the Feast of All Souls began independently of the Feast of All Saints. The Feast of All Souls owes its beginning to seventh century monks who decided to offer the mass on the day after Pentecost for their deceased community members. In the late tenth century, the Benedictine monastery in Cluny chose to move their Mass for their dead to November 2, the day after the Feast of all Saints. This custom spread and in the thirteenth century, Rome put the feast on the calendar of the entire Church. The date remained November 2 so that all in the Communion of the Saints might be celebrated together.
Other customs have arisen over time in the celebration of All Souls Day. The Dominicans in the 15th century instituted a custom of each priest offering three Masses on the Feast of All Souls. Pope Benedict XIV in 1748 approved this practice, and it rapidly spread throughout Spain, Portugal and Latin America. During World War I, Pope Benedict XV, recognizing the number of war dead and the numerous Masses that could not be fulfilled because of destroyed Churches, granted all priests the privilege of offering three Masses on All Souls Day: one for the particular intention, one for all of the faithful departed, and one for the intentions of the Holy Father.
Many more customs are associated with The Days of the Dead celebration. In the home an altar is made with an offering of food upon it. It is believed that the dead partake of the food in spirit and the living eat it later. The offerings are beautifully arranged with flowers such as marigolds, which are the traditional flower of the dead. There is a candle placed for each dead soul, and they are adorned in some manner. Incense is also often used, and mementos, photos, and other remembrances of the dead also adorn the offerings. Traditional Catholics still honor customs related to the relief of the souls suffering in purgatory. One custom is for persons to pray six Our Fathers, Hail Mary’s and Glory Be’s for the intentions of the Pope in a church, and thereby, receive a plenary indulgence for a soul in purgatory. This action may be repeated for another soul, by leaving the church and re-entering it to repeat the prayers.
All Soul’s Day lives on today, particularly in Mexico, where All Hallows’ Eve, All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day are collectively observed as “Los Dias de los Muertos” (The Days of the Dead). First and foremost, the Days of the Dead is a time when families fondly remember the deceased. But it is also a time marked by festivities, including spectacular parades of skeletons and ghouls. In one notable tradition, revelers lead a mock funeral procession with a live person inside a coffin.
As we all know, death is never final. We will be reunited with our loved ones. And for those in purgatory, let us pray for their souls to be cleansed, so we shall all live again in our Father’s house.
A prayer for all our departed brothers and sisters:
hear our prayer
and console us.
As we renew
our faith in Your Son,
whom You raised from the dead,
strengthen our hope
that all our departed brothers and sisters
will share in His resurrection,
who lives and reigns
with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Invocation for the Souls in Purgatory:
for whom I am in charity, gratitude, or friendship bound
and have the desire to pray.