We celebrate today the solemnity of All Saints. This invites us to turn our gaze to the immense multitude of those who have already reached the blessed land and points us on the path that will lead us to that destination.
— Pope John Paul II, All Saints’ Day 2003
Today, November 1, is celebrated by Anglicans as well as Roman Catholics and Aglipayans in predominantly Christian Philippines as All Saints Day, known in other religions as All Hallows’ Day or Hallowmas, the day after All Hallows Eve,
This date gives an opportunity for believers to remember all saints and martyrs, known and unknown, throughout Christian history. As part of this day of obligation, believers are required to attend church service and try not to do any servile work.
Remembering saints and martyrs and dedicating a specific day to them each year has been a Christian tradition since the 4th century AD, but it was not until 609AD that Pope Boniface IV decided to remember all martyrs.
Originally May 13 was designated as the Feast of All Holy Martyrs. Later, in 837AD, Pope Gregory IV extended the festival to remember all the saints, changed its name to Feast of All Saints, and changed the date to November 1.
Tomorrow, the day after All Saints Day, is All Souls Day and is an opportunity for Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholic churches to remember the faithful departed.
They remember and pray for the souls of people who are in Purgatory — the place. or state, in which those who have died to atone for their less grave sins before being granted the vision of God in Heaven, also called Beatific vision.
Theologians say the reasoning behind this stems from the notion that when a soul leaves the body, it is not entirely cleansed from venial or minor sins. But through the power of prayer and self-denial, the faithful left on earth may be able to help these souls gain the Beatific Vision they seek, bringing the soul eternal sublime happiness.
A 7/8th century AD prayer The Office of the Dead is read out in churches on All Souls’ Day. Other rituals include the offering of Requiem Mass for the dead, visiting family graves, and reflecting on lost loved ones.
Sometime back, long before the coronavirus hit this country of 110 million people, surviving relatives were free to gather at the resting places of departed kin on All Saints Day and All Souls Day – in some areas, for instance, in the northern Philippines, the relatives commemorate the death of loved ones below 13 years old and above 13 on All Souls Day.
Food offerings are prepared at home, capped by prayers the morning after following an overnight vigil, the food is shared eventually with relatives who attended the vigil or stayed overnight in the houses.
We remember one instance, when a priest, asked to pray for the eternal rest of a departed loved one at the town cemetery before noon before he celebrated the Mass for the Dead, said “Let us also pray for those who have been forgotten.”
The priest was standing in front of a family sepulcher, sheltered by rising bamboo and acacia trees, not far from unmarked graves covered by Kadena de Amor climbing grass plant and other wild grasses that had covered unvisited and forgotten graves.
Indeed, in what the northerners call Piesta Dagiti Natay, or Undas among the Tagalogs, or Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) among those who still speak Spanish, some have turned family graves picnic grounds during the pre-pandemic times, eventually leaving food out for their dead relatives in the cemeteries.
In other towns in the northern Philippines, members of the town’s band would be asked to play one or a couple of funeral marches for the departed relative, the musicians forming a circle around the resting place – with a few wads eventually given to the bandleader to be equally divided among themselves before sundown.
As Catholics mark All Saints Day and All Souls Day this week, they remember the letter of Pope John Paul II for Millennium of All Souls Day: “For the souls in purgatory, waiting for eternal happiness and for meeting the Beloved is a source of suffering, because of the punishment due to sin which separates them from God. But there is also the certitude that once the time of purification is over, the souls will go to meet the One it desires.”
While praying for the dead is an ancient Christian tradition, it was Odilo, Abbot of Cluny in France who, in 998AD, designated a specific day for remembering and praying for those in the process of purification.
This started as a local feast in his monasteries and gradually spread throughout the Catholic Church towards the end of the 10th century AD.
What is the significance of All Saints Day and All Souls Day in our lives as Catholic?
The Christian celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the “Church triumphant”), and the living (the “Church militant”).
In Catholic theology, the day commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven.
And as we pray in our houses because of the pandemic this day and tomorrow, let us, in the words of Pope John Paull II, celebrate the solemnity of all saints. And, as the priest intoned in that northern cemetery years back, let us also pray for those who have been forgotten.