All Saints and All Souls: Remembering the Faithfully Departed

November is the month of remembrance, and as part of that month the Catholic Church celebrates All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. Because the two days fall one after another and both commemorate the faithful departed, they are often confused or lumped together. Each day, however, has its own significance within the history and practices of the Catholic Church.

The first, All Saints Day, falls on November 1. This feast day is a commemoration of all the saints canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

“Because we have so many saints in the course of the year we can’t honor them all,” said Fr. Rothell Price, Vicar General of the Diocese of Shreveport.  “We only have 365 days in the year. It’s usually only one saint we commemorate on a particular day and sometimes there’s a grouping, like a group of martyrs…. Because we have thousands of saints, we can’t honor all of them on every calendar, every year. So once a year the Church has a special Mass during which we remember all the saints. All Saints Day is the Church’s commemoration of that whole body of saints who number in the thousands.”

While the origins of All Saints Day are not specific, in the 300’s, various countries had their own celebrations of the saints.  “For instance in the East, the city of Edessa celebrated this feast on May 13; the Syrians, on the Friday after Easter; and the city of Antioch, on the first Sunday after Pentecost. Both St. Ephrem (373) and St. John Chrysostom (407) attest to this feast day in their preaching,” said Fr. William Saunders in his article on “All Saints and All Souls.”

On May 13, 610 the “Feast of all Holy Martyrs” was introduced in Rome by Pope Boniface IV on the occasion of Emperor Phocas giving him the Pantheon in Rome. It was later transferred to November 1 during the pontificate of Pope Gregory VII in 1085, and by then it included all the saints. Why the change in date? There are several theories on the topic. The date was already popular in the Irish and English churches and it also fell during harvest time, when food would be plentiful for those traveling to celebrate the feast day.

Today the feast of All Saints Day remains on the Catholic calendar as a holy day of obligation, on which we are to attend Mass.

“All Saints Day is a solemnity, so we treat it with the dignity that we treat a Sunday,” said Fr. Price. “We sing the Gloria, a hymn of praise to God. On Sundays we stand for the profession of faith, so on All Saints Day we do that as well, followed by intercessory prayer or the prayers of the faithful.”

November 2 holds another important feast day in the life of the Church: All Souls Day.

“On All Souls Day we are commending our dearly departed to the love and care of God,” said Fr. Price. “And throughout the month of November, we remember our dearly departed with gratitude to God for the gift of them in our lives and we pray that through our prayers, they be admitted to the eternal banquet feast of heaven. If any sins have clung to their souls, that they be fully pardoned of their sins to enter into the fullness of the life of Heaven.”
Praying for the dead has always been a part of Catholic tradition. As early as the seventh century, monks would offer Mass for their deceased community members on the day after Pentecost, and in 998, the Benedictine monastery of Cluny celebrated all their dead on November 2. The practice slowly began to spread throughout the monasteries, and eventually to parishes. In the thirteenth century, November 2 was marked officially as All Souls Day on the calendar of the Catholic Church.

Many traditions have sprung up around the Feast of All Souls Day. Locally, we celebrate the feast day on the weekends surrounding November 2 by blessing local cemeteries.

“The scriptures tell us our prayers are efficacious for the faithful departed,” said Fr. Price. “Our prayers help them, as well as their prayers assist us. So annually on the feast day of All Souls, or close to the feast of All Souls, we will have an annual commemoration of the dead and that’s often marked by a visit to cemeteries and a blessing of graves.”

Local parishes also have individual ways of celebrating and praying for loved ones who have passed. Many will place tables in their sanctuary where parishioners can display photos of deceased loved ones, sometimes accompanied by candles that burn throughout the month of November.

In other parts of the world, namely Portugal, Spain and Latin America, priests have a custom of celebrating three Masses on November 2, a practice extended to all priests by Pope Benedict XV in 1915.

While these two feast days are distinct celebrations in the life of the Church, they share a common desire to pray for the faithfully departed.

“Those two feast days are related because the destination of the saints is Heaven, the destination of the faithful departed is Heaven and in the communion of saints we certainly remember them,” said Fr. Price. “In the Nicene Creed and in the Apostles Creed we pray for the resurrection of the dead and the life in the world to come.”

The month of November holds the Church’s “Memorial Days.” It is also sometimes dubbed the month of saints, the month of holy souls or memorial month. It is a time to pray for both the saints who have gone before us in death, and for the souls of our loved ones. Take time this month to pray for them all.

Ways to  Remember

How can we celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day? Try a few of these suggestions to keep the faithful departed in your mind and prayers throughout the month. Some of these suggestions are also great ways to teach your family about these two special feast days on the Church’s calendar!

1. Pick a saint, any saint. All Saints Day is a great time to become familiar with a saint you may not know much about. Maybe you need to find prayers and blessings for patron saints who help with something you’re troubled with in your life. Traveling? Motherhood? Addiction? Healing? Nurses? There’s a saint for that!

2. Ever heard of Happy Saints? This website is a great resource for ebooks for children (and adults) that include relatable stories of the lives of the saints with illustrations.

3. Mark your calendar! The whole month of November is a month of remembrance. Write the  name of a saint on each day of the month and ask for their prayers that day.

4. Find a tradition. For All Souls Day, find out if your parish has a tradition for the day. If so, join in by bringing a photo of a deceased loved one, attending Mass or attending a Blessing of the Graves.

5. Share Memories! Many times our children will never know those whom we have loved dearly and who passed away before their time. Share memories of those loved ones throughout the month, then say a prayer for their soul after you share the memory.

6. Prayer. On All Souls Day, remember your loved ones with prayer, family and food. Soul cakes and other breads are a traditional treat for this day.

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