By Javier Fajardo
The commemoration of all the faithful departed is celebrated by the Church on Nov. 2, or, if this be a Sunday or a solemnity, on Nov. 3.
The theological basis for the feast is the doctrine that the souls which, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past transgressions, are debarred from the Beatific Vision, and that the faithful on earth can help them by prayers, almsdeeds and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass.
In the early days of the Church, the names of the faithful departed were posted in Church so that the community would remember them in prayer. In the sixth century, the Benedictine monasteries held a solemn commemoration of deceased members at Whitsuntide, the days following Pentecost. In Spain, St. Isidore (d. 636) attested to a celebration on the Saturday before Sexagesima Sunday (the second Sunday before Lent, the eighth before Easter in the old calendar). In Germany, Widukind, Abbot of Corvey (d. 980) recorded a special ceremony for the faithful departed on Oct. 1. St. Odilo, the Abbot of Cluny (d. 1048), decreed for all of the Cluniac monasteries that special prayers be offered and the Office of the Dead sung for all of the souls in Purgatory on Nov. 2, the day after All Saints. The Benedictines and Carthusians adopted that same devotion, and soon Nov. 2 was adopted as the Feast of All Souls for the whole Church.
Other customs have arisen over time in the celebration of All Souls’ Day. The Dominicans in the 15th century instituted a custom of each priest offering three Masses on the Feast of All Souls. Pope Benedict XIV in 1748 approved this practice, and it rapidly spread throughout Spain, Portugal and Latin America. During World War I, Pope Benedict XV, recognizing the number of war dead and the numerous Masses that could not be fulfilled because of destroyed churches, granted all priests the privilege of offering three Masses on All Souls’ Day: one for the particular intention, one for all of the faithful departed and one for the intentions of the Holy Father.
Other customs have developed regarding All Souls. In Mexico, relatives make garlands, wreathes and crosses of real and paper flowers of every color to place on the graves of deceased relatives the morning of All Souls. The family will spend the entire day at the cemetery. The pastor will visit the cemetery, preach and offer prayers for the dead and then bless the individual graves. “Skeleton” candy is given to the children.
Similar practices occur in Louisiana. The relatives whitewash and clean the tombstones and prepare garlands, wreathes and crosses of real and paper flowers to decorate them.
In the afternoon of All Saints, the priest processes around the cemetery, blessing the graves and reciting the rosary. Candles are lit near the graves at dusk, one for each member of the deceased. On All Souls’ Day, Mass is usually offered at the cemetery.
Archbishop of Louisville, Joseph E. Kurtz will celebrate the annual All Souls’ Day Mass for all of the deceased members of the archdiocese at Calvary Cemetery on Saturday Nov. 2 at 11:00 a.m. Archbishop Kurtz invites everyone to join him on this most special feast day of faith, prayer and remembrance in the words of the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II “ … it is the pious tradition during these days for the faithful to go visit the graves of their dear ones and to pray for them.”
Javier Fajardo is executive director of the Catholic Cemeteries Office.