You’ve heard of Halloween, that glorious day once a year when it becomes socially acceptable to run around in costumes and take candy from strangers. You’ve probably heard of All Saints’ Day, a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church, during which we attend Mass and reflect on the shining examples of the saintly men and women who have gone before us. But what about All Souls’ Day? The Feast of All Souls is celebrated on Nov. 2, and is a day traditionally dedicated to the memory of friends, relatives, and all who have died. Unfortunately, this final day in the autumn triduum is often entirely neglected, and in our busy, modern lives, we miss out on an important opportunity to celebrate this holiday and fully embrace our humanity.
There are two distinct ways to celebrate All Souls’ Day. The first comes from the Catholic tradition which observes the day by fasting and offering prayers for the souls in purgatory, especially the souls who have no one to pray for them. The revelations of the saints tell us that purgatory is a place of immense joy – as the souls know they will be united with God – and immense suffering – as they see themselves plainly in all their offenses against God. Catholics believe that once a soul leaves this life, it can no longer pray for itself and it relies on friends and relatives to offer prayers and sacrifices to expiate its time in purgatory. Because of this, it is important that we pray for the souls in purgatory.
The second way to celebrate this holiday is a more lively one. People who are familiar with Hispanic traditions will recognize the trio of Halloween, All Saints’ and All Souls’ as the festival of Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Spanish people combined ancient pagan traditions with the Catholic feast days to celebrate the lives of deceased family members with sugar skulls, candlelight processions and marigolds.
Even if you’re not religious (or Hispanic for that matter), celebrating All Souls’ Day can be a positive experience. In this fast-paced life, we often don’t give ourselves adequate time to grieve. All Souls’ Day can be a good reminder to appreciate loved ones both living and dead. Whether one chooses to celebrate All Souls’ Day in a festive or solemn manner, or some combination of the two, everyone can benefit from pausing in our busy lives to remember loved ones and reflect on the shortness of life.
Some ways to celebrate
1. Visit a cemetery: Taking time to visit a cemetery and reflect on life and death is a great way to celebrate this day.
2. Tend a grave: Both Memorial Day and All Souls’ Day are traditionally reserved for tidying or decorating graves of deceased family members.
3. Take some time to remember a deceased loved one in a special way: In the secular sense, All Souls’ is a time to remember our family and friends who have died and honor their memory. Listen to a song that reminds you of them, commemorate them with their favorite food or activity, have a good cry if you feel like it.
4. Attend Mass: Mass is the greatest prayer and sacrifice in the Catholic Church. Attending Mass in memory of all the departed and offering the Mass for the souls in purgatory is a wonderful way to celebrate this feast day.
5. Fast and pray: All Souls’ is traditionally considered a day of fasting and abstinence as we pray for the repose of the souls who have gone before us.
6. Go to confession: If the souls in purgatory could recommend one thing to us it would be to go to confession and remove all obstacles between ourselves and God’s love and mercy.