All Souls' Day 2 November NT
(The Commemoration of All Faithful Departed)
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An altar decorated for All Souls' Day

All Soul's Day is the last day of a triduum (a three-day celebration) of commemorations of the dead dating back to pre-Christian eras. As has been discussed concerning the Eve of All Hallow's (Halloween) and All Saints Day, the Celts of northern Europe held a three day festival known as Samhain, during which they paid particular attention to the memory of their dead. The Church Christianized this festival by giving new meanings to the customs of Halloween night, and by offering a vision of the Communion of Saints that is remembered on All Saints Day, November 1st.

The last day of this Christianized commemoration of the dead is known as All Soul's Day, falling on November 2nd. On this day, the Church remembers all of the faithful departed who died peaceable deaths with the expectation of Christ's promises of eternal life. These were ordinary people, who were not given the status of sainthood by the Church, but who were nevertheless saintly communicants. Today, all Christians are reckoned as saints, a concept referred to as the Common of Saints. However, it must be remembered that this is an ancient theology that has only recently been reclaimed.

For much of history, a person known as a saint was only a person who had done some heroic deed for the benefit of the Church and the Faith, or who had died specifically because of their proclamation of that faith (ie, martyrs). These were the persons who were honored with canonization and were remembered on the Church's calendar. They were believed to have ascended directly to heaven at the deaths and welcomed there by God. During this time, a person who remained faithful to the Church and Christ, but who had not done any extraordinary saintly deeds, were remembered on November 2nd. Until recently, these were people that Roman Catholics believed were in Purgatory, separated from the Saints and Christ until the Second Coming, but nevertheless at comfortable rest. Because the Common of Saints has been reclaimed, and the theology of Purgatory is waning, all Christians are generally remembered on November 1st whether they have been canonized or not. November 2nd, therefore, is increasingly falling into neglect. For the most part, where All Soul's is commemorated, it is offered as an opportunity for individuals to remember their ancestors, such as parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and spouses.

The Feast of All Soul's was added to the triduum at a much later date than All Saints Day or All Hallow's Eve. Even after Samhain in the north had ceased to be remembered, the Celts still had a cultural impulse to celebrate for three days, as if they knew they were supposed to be doing so but couldn't remember why. Elsewhere in the Church, monasteries had established the custom holding requiem masses for the brothers of their order who had died. The theology of Purgatory required that we on earth continue to pray for the dead in order to shorten their time in Purgatory. These requiems were held at different dates throughout the year, depending on the region and the monastic order. The Church thought it reasonable to unify all of these commemorations on a single date for the sake of liturgical order. Therefore, by the turn of the Second Millenium, the Church had established the triduum of commemorations that began on October 31st and ended on November 2nd.

In the Latin world (southern Europe and Latin America), All Soul's Day is known as the Day of the Dead. On this day, families are reunited in the cemeteries where their ancestors are buried. During these family reunions, they decorate their ancestors' tombs and hold parties which begin in the afternoon and continue on into the evening. These are not morbid celebrations, as one might expect, but very happy and positive celebrations that are intended to bring back happy memories of the ancestors that are very much included in the celebrations.

written by James Kiefer


O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.