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All Souls Day – History And Meaning

– by Marianne Buzzelli


Feast Day – November 2

On All Souls Day the Catholic Church commemorates all of the faithful departed, the souls who are in a state of purgation (purgatory) awaiting their place in heaven. We pray for the faithful departed during every Mass, as we pray for those “…who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and… who sleep in Christ”.

What a marvelous thought of “sleeping in Christ”.  For, we know that if we live in Christ we will also die in Christ. And, after death, all holy souls prior to their entrance in heaven will also be sleeping “in Christ”. As Christians we believe that as Christ died, rose, and ascended into heaven, we too, if we are in a state of grace, will have a place in heaven after our death. St. Paul speaks of this promise and hope as he writes “God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep” (1Thes 4:13-14).

In our prayer for the dead we display our faith and hope in eternal life and participate as The Church Militant on earth as members of The Communion of Saints in requesting intercession for the faithful departed. The basis for this practice of prayer for the faithful departed is in our belief that we are all united in The Mystical Body of Christ and The Communion of Saints – The Church Militant on earth, The Church Triumphant in heaven, and The Church Suffering in Purgatory. We invoke the intercession of the glorious saints of The Church Triumphant as we do penance and pray for all those on earth, The Church Militant, and the holy souls in purgatory, The Church Suffering.

Prayer for the dead was recognized in the earliest writings of The Church. Early Church Fathers note the use of diptychs or tablets in which Christians would record the death of Christians. St. Cyprian in the third century and St. John Chrysostom in the fourth century write about these recorded deaths in diptychs. The dead were remembered with prayers and works of penance. Benedictine monks offered commemoration services for the dead during the sixth century. And, in 998 St. Odilo, the fifth Abbot of Cluny, implemented the annual commemoration of the faithful departed among all monasteries which spread among all Benedictines, and throughout the Church. Blessed John Paul II recognized the millennium commemoration of All Souls Day in his 1998 address. He cites this beautiful passage from Lumen Gentium: “Intercession for the dead, just as the life of those living according to the divine commandments, obtains the merits that serve the full attainment of salvation. It is an expression of the fraternal charity of the one family of God, by which “we are faithful to the Church’s deepest vocation” (Lumen gentium, n. 51)

It is thus, on this special feast day that we look with special love and devotion to all of the faithful departed, our family, friends, and those who have no one to pray for them. The entire month of November is dedicated to all souls in purgatory. Let us “express our fraternal charity within the one family of God” as we pray for the faithful departed and also as we invoke the intercession of Our Dear Blessed Mother as we pray on a beautiful Pearl Our Lady of Guadalupe Rosary.



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