The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him
may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.”
Faith in eternal life is fundamental to our Christian belief system.
While this promise of Jesus and the gift of his resurrection awaits us we must also acknowledge it as mystery. We do not know the shape and form of ‘life eternal’ we simply know that we shall be with God and that we will know perfect unity and love in God’s presence. The life of heaven that awaits is symbolised by words like ‘eternal’ and ‘perfect’ and imaged numerous times in art, poetry and story. The Book of Revelations remains one of our chief scriptural descriptions, but it is of course overlaid by significant theological meanings and messages to be taken too literally.
Perhaps a ‘visible’ symbol of eternal life is to be found in the vastness of the cosmos. This reality, of which we are but a tiny part, is vast and seemingly endless, is almost incomprehensible and yet we exist within it. Perhaps eternity is somewhat like that – something beyond our present comprehension yet something in which we are destined to participate. Indeed from one point of view eternity has already begun for us all! We are born into eternal life and death is merely our transition into a new state of being ‘in God’.
Thus we see those who have gone before us as still with us, or more precisely as the church in heaven awaiting our entry. The long tradition of prayer for those who have gone before us, and indeed asking them to pray in turn for us, is one of the hallmarks of Catholic life and devotion.
From sources such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica we can learn that the institution of a day for a general intercession for those who had died and gone before us can be traced to a monk Odilo, the abbot of the Monastery of Cluny. Abbot Odilo died in 1048, but the date set for such intercession – November 2nd – became practically universal before the end of the 13th century.
Of course we note too that today’s focus – on those members of the universal church who had died was chosen to follow All Saints’ Day. Thus having celebrated the feast of all the members of the church who are believed to be in heaven (the saints), the church on earth turns, on the next day, to commemorate those souls who have gone before us. Our particular focus is broad, on November 2nd we commemorate all of the Faithful Departed, or All Souls. On this day, we pray that all those who have died. Of course we remember with love and devotion our own family and friends who have gone before us, but in faith too we extend our prayers to so many others, people we may never have met but who we pray for on this day.
Grant to all our dear departed loved ones eternal rest, O Lord.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.