All Souls' Day

Friday, Oct. 28, 2011
All Souls' Day + Enlarge
Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Salt Lake City will be the site of an All Souls' Day Mass at noon on Nov. 2.

SALT LAKE CITY — In the calendar of the Catholic Church, All Souls’ Day is celebrated on Nov. 2, unless it falls on a Sunday, then it is celebrated on Nov. 3.

The day commemorates all the faithful departed. It comes from the ancient pagan Festival of the Dead. The pagan belief was that souls of the dead would return for a meal with the family, so candles were lit in windows to guide the souls back home and another place was set at the table. Children would go through the village asking for food to be offered symbolically to the dead, and then donate the food to the hungry.

"Remembrance of the dead is most important," said Monsignor Francis Mannion, pastor of Saint Vincent de Paul Parish. "Without such remembrance we lose part of ourselves. The fact that the Church prays for the dead is profoundly significant. Such prayer arises out of a very particular understanding of life after death that is a crucial part of our Catholic tradition."

The traditional Catholic understanding of death differs from that of the modern world, Msgr. Mannion said. "It holds that at the time of death, the human person enters into a state of ongoing pilgrimage toward the kingdom of God. Unless the person has achieved the status of the saints, he or she enters into a state of ongoing growth and purification, into a state which growth into the perfection of Christ continues."

The Church on earth prays for the dead, and accompanies and supports those who have gone before as they grow in Christ, he said. "Purgatory is not a city of torment; rather, it represents a process by which God reaches out to those who have died in imperfection and calls them to himself. Purgatory is a dynamic process of transformation and sanctification, a completion of what God began in us at baptism."

The pain in Purgatory is the breaking out of the old self into the new, Msgr. Mannion said. "We become holy, whether in life or in death, by many transformations which inevitably involve pain because they involve growth, self-scrutiny and self-sacrificing love," he said.

Praying for the dead is meaningful, he said. "Prayer for the dead is an act of solidarity. We accompany them on their pilgrim way. It is of great importance that we celebrate All Soul’s Day at the Lord’s Table. Communion with Christ is also communion with all those who are in Christ – the angels, saints and our beloved dead are present in the Eucharist. When we receive the Eucharist, we should talk not only to Christ, but to our beloved friends and relatives who have died."

Catholics’ relationship with the dead can sometimes be painful, he said. "Sometimes there was no chance to be reconciled before death; sometimes forgiveness was not exchanged; those who are dead may have hurt, injured or betrayed those still living, or vice versa. All Souls’ Day can be a day of offering forgiveness to the dead or asking forgiveness from them."

Above all, All Souls’ Day is a time of keeping the dead visible in the human world because their lives are enmeshed with those of the living, Msgr. Mannion said. "We shall have to encounter them again. The coming of God’s Kingdom includes the resurrection of the dead: the resurrection of each one of us, and the resurrection of history from all its tears and ruins, from death and misery, destruction and tragedy."

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