This Tuesday, 1 November, we will join with the universal Church is celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints. On Wednesday, we will celebrate the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed, commonly known as All Souls. Both of these annual feasts speak powerfully about one of the very important tenets of our faith – belief in everlasting life for everyone – and have ancient roots. The Solemnity of All Saints dates back to the days of ancient Roman, when the people throughout the Empire often deified and worshipped their ancestors, and had a public holiday when they would dress in the garb of these deified ancestors and parade through the streets of their cities, towns and villages. The early followers of Christ turned this into a celebration of the martyrs, dressing like the martyrs and processing through the streets just as the Romans did. Although it had its origin in the Eastern Church in the 4th century, Pope Gregory IV established this commemoration for the entire Church in 835AD. It was originally celebrated on Easter Friday, but then in the late 9th century, the Solemnity of All Saints was transferred to 1 November to counter the Celtic pagan feast of the Druids.
The Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed, commonly known as All Souls, is also rooted in ancient tradition, dating back to the 2nd century, and focuses on those who have died and are in Purgatory, preparing themselves to enter Heaven. Tertullian mentions it in his writings. St. Odilo of Cluny established a memorial of all the faithful departed in 988AD, and this memorial was accepted in Rome in the 13th century.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers us an excellent way to understand our relationship with those who have died and are in Purgatory as well as the saints in Heaven:
954 The three states of the Church. “When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is”‘. (Lumen Gentium 49; cf. Mt 25:31)
All of us, however, in varying degrees and in different ways share in the same charity towards God and our neighbors, and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God. All, indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together.
955 “So it is that the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who sleep in the peace of Christ is in no way interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the constant faith of the Church, this union is reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods.” (Lumen Gentium 49)
956 The intercession of the saints. “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness….[T]hey do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus…. So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.” (Lumen Gentium 49; cf. I Tim 2:5)
The Catechism then quotes St. Dominic on his deathbed to his brothers:
“Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.”
Yes, we are all part of one Church, gathered together by our Lord. As most of the Mass prefaces acknowledge, we join with the saints in praising our God with endless acclaim. And, at every Mass, we remember those who are still in Purgatory. We pray for “our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and all who have died in your mercy” (Second Eucharistic Prayer) and we ask God to give them “kind admittance to your kingdom” (Third Eucharistic Prayer).
The Church has traditionally dedicated the entire month of November to prayers for all the souls of the faithful departed. Msgr. Beach and I assure you that we will remember all of your beloved family members who have died, especially those you listed on your All Souls envelopes, which will be kept next to the tabernacle throughout the month. And, all those who have lost a loved one over the past year have been invited to join together at the 9:30am Mass this Sunday where their loved ones will be remembered as we all offer prayers for their eternal happiness. Both of these celebrations, All Saints and All Souls, offer us a good opportunity to reflect on the ultimate purpose of our lives – union with God and all the faithful in the everlasting joy of Heaven!