Did you know that the general custom of praying for the dead dates back to the Hebrew Bible? (2 Maccabees 12:42-46) But it wasn’t until the fourteenth century that Rome set aside a special day of intercession for the dead, praying for souls in purgatory that they might find perfect union with God.
How can you mark the Feast of All Souls?
- If there is a Mexican community near you, you might join in or observe Day of the Dead processions/celebrations. Why not try some special food? Pan de muerto (sweet rolls shaped like a bun, topped with sugar, and often decorated with bone-shaped phalanges pieces) and calaveras (sugar skulls, display colorful designs to represent the vitality and individual personality of the departed) are both popular.
- Nearly every culture includes visits to cemeteries on All Souls’ Day (and the night before); in Hungary it’s a silent, reflective time, with extra buses available to shuttle people to graveyards, while in Louisiana, relatives whitewash and clean the tombstones and prepare garlands, wreathes and crosses of real and paper flowers to decorate them. In the afternoon of All Saints’ Day, the priest processes around the cemetery, blessing the graves and reciting the Rosary.
- This is an important time to gather as the community of faith at your parish church. There’s a Polish legend that at midnight on All Souls Day a bright light shines on the local parish; the light is the holy souls of departed parishioners gathered to pray for their release from purgatory at the altars of their former earthly parishes.
No matter how you mark this day, it’s a time to stop the flow of everyday life and remember those we love who have died, to reminisce about their lives and the gifts they gave us, and to pray for their souls to be united forever with God in heaven.