All Souls Day
All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows' Day falls on November 1, and is followed by All Souls' Day on November 2. (or the 3rd if the 2nd is a Sunday)
The day is a Christian festival that honours all souls of Christians who have died. Observing Christians usually remember their deceased relatives on this day.
Believers remember and pray for the souls of people who are in purgatory - the place in which those who have died atone for their sins before being granted the vision of God in Heaven.
The thought behind this is that when a soul leaves the body, it is not entirely cleansed from minor sins. But, through the power of prayer, the faithful on earth can help these souls gain the heavenly vision they seek.
Setting aside November 2 to pray for the dead is a custom dating back to the 10th century. It was first established by St. Odilo of Cluny in 998, at his abbey of Cluny, France. This started as a feast in his monasteries and gradually spread towards the end of the 10th century AD.
The story goes that a pilgrim was washed up on an island during a storm, and there had visions of souls trapped in purgatory burning for their sins. After returning home, he asked Father Odilo why there was not a certain day set aside to pray for the souls of the deceased.
In response, Father Odilo established November 2 as that day, known as All Souls’ Day. The practice soon spread throughout the Cluniac order, which went on to become the most extensive network of monasteries in Europe.
From there it continued spreading throughout the western church, before being adopted by Rome in the 14 century.
While November 2 remained a day associated with prayers for the deceased, the entire month eventually became associated with remembering those who had passed.
A story is told of a King who had a lovely flower garden. His gardener, who tended it, took great pains to make the garden an exotic paradise.
One morning the gardener went into the garden to visit his favourite flowers. To his dismay he discovered that one of his choicest flowers had been cut from its stem.
Soon he saw that the most beautiful flower from each plot of the garden were missing. Filled with anxiety and anger, he hurried to his fellow workers and demanded: “Who stole my priceless treasures?”
One of his helpers replied, “The King came into his garden this morning, picked those flowers himself, and took them into his house. I guess he wanted to give the flowers the rightful place of beauty in his palace.”
The gardener, though sad, then realised that he had no reason to be concerned… because it was perfectly right for his master to pick some of his own prized blossoms.
Though he missed his lovely flowers…he also realised, he was only a caretaker The flowers, in the true sense, belonged to the King, and to him alone!
Our lives are such… In the garden of the world, as gardeners, we feel sad when we lose our loved ones – the prized blossoms of our life. But when we realise, that it is the King Himself – God – Who has picked these blossoms… “to give the flowers the rightful place of beauty in His Palace.” We are consoled and get a better realisation that there is no reason to be concerned.
The flowers in the garden of our lives – our loved ones – in the true sense, belong to the King, and to Him alone!
Today is the All Souls Day – when we commemorate and pray for all the Faithful Departed… those flowers, who have gone away from the garden of our lives; yet whom we believe, are safe in the Mercy of God!
What makes us to pray for the dead, the faithful departed? It is necessarily in the co-relationship that all human beings share with each other. We do pray for the people who are in need, when they live on this earth. We do seek intercessions on their behalf to God, when they are with us. But when a person dies, his/her existence ceases only in our sight. They still continue to live in God’s sight. The dead are not dead for God.
This is what Jesus says in Luke 20:38, “…he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him, all are alive”
Therefore, it is logical and reasonable that we pray for the faithful departed. Therefore, it is a duty on our part that we pray for the purification of these Faithful Departed.
This Commemoration of the All Souls Day, is also a reminder of our own Death and the death of our close ones. True, that as frail humans, we may have a natural fear and even a sort of phobia of death, but our Christian Love, Faith and Hope must gain the upper-hand in us.
Death is frightening for the faithless, but for the faithful, it is the doorway to the Fountain of Faith. Death is horrifying for the loveless but for those who love, it is the passage to the Fullness of Love. Death is devastating for the hopeless but for those who hope, it is the entry to the Spring of Hope. Death is a reality. No amount of reflection or sermons can substitute the pain of this reality. Sometimes, in such situations, silence is the only answer that we can provide. But this silence ought to be a silence of hope, a silence of trust and a silence of faith.
When we love God deeper, the fear of death decreases. When we have a stronger faith in God, the pain of death reduces. When we have an unshakeable hope in God, the anguish of death subsides
Death is hard. But, the Lord has conquered this death. Let us look on to Him, on the Cross, and find greater meaning and hope in life. In the Lord the faithful departed are “faithful returned!” In the Lord our loved ones do not leave home, “they go Home!”
So All Souls Day is not a day of gloom or sorrow but a day of anticipation, we are not yet there, the grave has not claimed us nor the risen Christ fully met us, yet we know deep within that his voice, his presence is real and makes all the dead real, for through him they are alive.
St Bede describes Christ as our Morning Star, the one that never sets, that door to eternal life. Those who have gone before us are with us still, our companions, the company of heaven, and the people of the living God.
May they rest in peace and rise in glory.