The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls)
All Souls Day is traditionally the third day of Allhallowtide—right after Halloween and All Saints’ Day. These three days have invited people into deeper communion with the dead, from ancient times right up until the present.
Ancient peoples who lived in the northern hemisphere experienced autumn as a time of diminishment, as their fields were emptied of crops, and the trees dropped their leaves. As the days became shorter and the air crisper, their thoughts turned to death, not only the death in nature, but their deceased loved ones as well. Halloween was first observed by Celtic people in Ireland at the end of their harvest season. On this special day, the Celts believed the veil between the living and the dead was especially thin.
In the southern hemisphere, the Day of the Dead, el Día de Muertos, developed in Mexico to honor deceased relatives, and is now joyfully celebrated in many other countries. With the coming of Christianity, the feast was celebrated on November 1st and November 2nd , in keeping with the Catholic Church’s All Saints Day and All Souls Day celebrations, which were instituted in the Middle Ages. All Saints Day is a celebration of the saints and martyrs in the Church, and All Souls Day is a celebration of the many other people who lived good lives, and who may have touched us personally: our ancestors, parents, extended family, mentors, teachers, and friends.
When we research and reflect on the lives of those who have gone before us, we discover that their lives were not always easy. In today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom, we hear of the soul’s journey as one of being purified as gold in a furnace: being tested by fire.
Before our physical death, there are many other “deaths” during our lives: loss of a loved one, loss of our health, or even loss of a dream. How did those who went before us survive these tests by fire?
St. Paul answers this question in our second reading for today: “For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.”–Romans 6:5. In union with Jesus, souls of the faithful departed rose up to meet the challenges of life and become the great souls we celebrate today, people who have built families, neighborhoods, churches, and communities. Let us remember them and thank God (and them) for their faithfulness. For, as we hear in our funeral liturgies, death does not break the bonds forged in life, and “Life is changed, not ended”.
Patty Gillis is a retired Pastoral Minister. She served on the Board of Directors at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit. She is currently a member of the Laudato Si Vision Fulfillment Team and the Passionist Solidarity Network.