Celebrating All Saints and All Souls


Today, November 2nd, we celebrate the feast of All Souls. On the day after All Saints, the Church reminds us of those who have not yet achieved the goal of their pilgrimage, the Kingdom of Heaven. As part of the communion of saints, they need our prayers. Today's feast is an opportunity for us to pray in unity for our relatives and friends and for those who have no one to pray for them.
The feast of All Souls developed along side the feast of All Saints. The Church has consistently 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.
Various local customs have become attached to the celebration over the years.
In the Middle Ages, many believed that the souls in purgatory appeared on this day, in the form of witches, goblins, and so on, to those who had wronged them during their lives on earth, and special foods were prepared to feed and appease the spirits. Some ethnic groups continue this tradition today.
In the 15th century, 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 and the number of churches that had been destroyed, granted all priests the privilege of offering three Masses on All Souls.
The new edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal once again allows priests to celebrate three Masses on All Souls Day, albeit at different times of the day. 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 set are more for the worshippers than the departed, with a strong plea for consolation and hope. The second contains imagery of the purgation of souls, but through gentle terms like washing, cleansing, purification. The third set emphasises the victory of Jesus over sin and death. Baptismal imagery is strongly evident in the latter two Masses.
Every celebration of Mass includes prayers for the dead. A particular feast like All Souls gives a special focus to the basic Christian instinct and traditional Catholic practice of remaining in communion with those who have gone before us 'marked with the sign of faith'.


Elizabeth Harrington