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COMMEMORATING ALL THE FAITHFUL DEPARTED
Next Sunday, November 2nd, is All Souls day in the Church’s liturgical calendar. On the day following the feast of All Saints, we remember those who have not yet achieved the goal of their pilgrimage, the Kingdom of Heaven.
Vigil Masses on the evening of Saturday November 1st of course celebrate the feast All Souls, not All Saints.
The feast of All Souls developed along side the feast of All Saints. The Church has always encouraged prayers for the faithful departed. In the early years, a list of the names of the dead was placed in the church so that the community would remember them in prayer. In the 6th century, Benedictine monasteries held a solemn commemoration of their deceased members on the day after Pentecost. Similar services soon came to be held in other religious communities.
In the first half of the 11th century, St Odilo of Cluny decreed that the Office of the Dead was to be offered for all the souls in purgatory in all monasteries of the order on November 2nd, the day after All Saints. Other orders followed this custom, and soon November 2nd was adopted as the feast of All Souls for the whole Church. In the 15thcentury, the Dominicans instituted the offering of three Masses by every priest on All Souls. This practice quickly became popular in Spain, Portugal and Latin America.
During World War I, Pope Benedict XV, in acknowledgment of the vast numbers killed in the war, granted all priests the privilege of offering three Masses on All Souls, a privilege which still applies today. Any second Mass must be offered for the souls of all the faithful departed, and a third Mass for the intentions of the pope.
Three sets of Mass texts are given for the celebration of All Souls. The prayers in the first are more for the worshippers than the departed, with a strong plea for consolation and hope. The second group uses imagery of the purgation of souls, but in gentle terms like washing, cleansing and purification. The third set emphasises the victory of Jesus over sin and death. Baptismal imagery is strongly evident in the latter two Masses.
On All Souls we pray in unity for our deceased relatives and friends and for those who have no one to pray for them.
“The Church offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Christ's Passover for the dead so that, since all the members of Christ's body are in communion with each other, the petition for spiritual help on behalf of some may bring comforting hope to others.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal #379)
“We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always attentive to our prayers.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #962)
Every celebration of Mass includes prayers for the dead. A particular feast like All Souls gives a special focus to the traditional Catholic practice of remaining in communion with those who have gone before us 'marked with the sign of faith'.