Commemorating All the Faithful Departed - 2nd November 2014

November is traditionally associated in the Catholic Church with remembrance of the dead.
Bringing to mind deceased family and friends can be very painful, especially if the bereavement is relatively recent. Liturgical remembrance, however, is not just about looking back to the past but also looking ahead to the future in trust and hope. Just as our loved one shared in Christ’s death in baptism, we believe that he or she will share in Christ’s resurrection and enjoy eternal life in God’s presence.

This Sunday, November 2nd, we celebrate the feast of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, or All Souls’ Day as it was previously known. 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 tradition of recalling and interceding for the dead is a long-established practice in the Church. In earlier centuries, large tablets or “diptychs” were inscribed with the names of the dead who were to be remembered at the Mass and the deacon would read out the names during the liturgy.

There is something poignant and personal about writing down the names of our deceased loved ones and asking the community to remember them in prayer. Many parishes have a Book of Remembrance in which parishioners are invited to write the names of relatives and friends who have died in the last year. The book can be gave be given a place of honour during the celebration of Mass as a reminder to the assembly to pray for those who have died.

Various local customs have become attached to the celebration of All Souls’ 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.

Three sets of Mass texts (entrance antiphon, collect, prayer over the offerings, communion antiphon, and prayer after communion) are given for the celebration of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. The prayers in the first set are a strong plea for consolation and hope; those in the second set contain images 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.

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 “fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection”.

Listen kindly to our prayers, O Lord,
and, as our faith in your Son,
raised from the dead, is deepened,
so may our hope of resurrection for your departed servants
also find new strength. (Collect 1)

Elizabeth Harrington