As a child, I always wondered at the difference between All Saints Day, when the Church focuses on celebrating and remembering the souls who dwell in Heaven, with All Soul’s Day, when the Church shifts her focus to the souls in the state of purgation, or Purgatory. The first thing I remember is having to go to Mass on one (All Saints, a Holy Day of Obligation) and not having to for the other.
I remember thinking that the folks we remember on All Saints Day must be much more important. After all, they have their own “HDO”! Angels and Archangels, The Blessed Mother, her husband Joseph, Francis of Assisi, Thomas the Apostle, Padre Pio, with scores and scores of others, are all included in this holy “cloud of witnesses”. We recognize their place in Heaven as holy and worthy of veneration, and direct our prayers to God through them.
But what of “All Souls”? Sometimes I thought it sounded to me almost like an afterthought; YES, ALL SAINTS, PRAISE GOD…and oh yeah, you guys, too. Although I did not go to Catholic school, my mom was a nurse in one, and she always had off the day after Halloween, something of which my sister and I were quite envious (then again, Mom never got off for the Jewish holidays in September…we all had the opportunity to ‘rub it in’ throughout the year) We sometimes attended Mass on All Souls, but it was by no means regular. So why is this day celebrated at all?
What makes All Souls more than the watered down version of All Saints? Well, All Souls are the folks I know; All Souls is me. I don’t know too many Saints personally (although I suspect I do know a couple) All Souls are people precisely like me. All Souls include my Grandfather who drank too much and died in a decade of confusion and depression after my Grandmother passed. All Souls include my friend Ray, a brash teenage addict and alcoholic who brought me around to meetings during my first go-around in AA; he committed suicide in his garage at the age of 18. All Souls include my friend Keith, a high school kindred who endured ridicule and beatings at the hands of the closed-minded for the way he looked and the music he loved; he refused medical attention for an asthma attack and died as a result before he was 20. All Souls includes my Great Grandmother with the chin hairs that scared me. All Souls includes my beloved Archie, who helped me survive my early sobriety with the purr and lick of true companionship.
All Souls are all of those I love and cherish; my family, my friends, my ancestors, even my strangers and enemies, who have gone before: Any and all who may need my prayers and are kept alive and well through fond memories of days gone by. We ask the Saints in Heaven to pray for us on their Feast Day. Strengthened by these prayers of the Church Triumphant, we, the Church Militant, in turn pray for the Souls who may not have attained Heaven yet, The Church Suffering, that they may find the face of God and be comforted.
Remember and cherish those who have left this life…regardless of your faith tradition…this All Souls Day.
Pax et Bonum,
The Commemoration of All Souls
Daily Mass Readings
Psalm 23: 1-6