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Oct 31st
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1/25
Reflections on All-Saints’ and All-Souls’ Days and their Origin


By the Rev. Msgr. James J. Loughnane, P.A., V.F.

Pastor of the St. Denis Catholic Community of Diamond Bar, California


 

In the creed we pray, “We believe in the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” At no time is the Communion of Saints more real to us than on the first days of November. Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints and tomorrow, the feast of All Souls. We, the faithful on Earth, (are) still working out our eternal salvation in making up the third-and-final piece of the Communion of Saints.

 

Very often when we think of saints, we think only of the “Super Stars,” those whose faceless names make an annual appearance on the calendar of heroes and heroines of past generations. Many of us have favorites among these saints who have gone before us, setting an admirable example but also seemingly an impossible standard. Today’s feast honors all those who do not have a special feast day but are believed to be in heaven. Today’s readings are about people like them and like us, not just about those who have been named saints through Church canonization. Many folks would say this day is to remember the un-canonized, the good people who have touched our lives and have gone to their eternal rest.

 

In today’s second Reading (1 John 3:1-3) the author tells us in no uncertain terms that sainthood is not just something we are canonized into; it is something we are loved into by God. The more we are loved and respond to that love, the more we are able to live, grow and change and come to the point of accepting ourselves, perfections and imperfections, seeing the light and the love of God in us. Too often, we give up on ourselves, because we expect the perfection we think is necessary for the sainthood.

 

The Beatitudes

 

In the first reading (Book of Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14) the people in John’s vision are not the canonized dead, they are those who are “marked” with God’s love. They are those who continue to live and grow through – and in spite of – fear, trials, troubles and insecurity to be numbered among those whom we call saints. The Beatitudes, like John’s vision, are about us, too. These are the “attitudes” that all of us are called to bring to our life experiences. By living these special attitudes we can grow, change and become “blessed” or marked as most fortunate by God.

 

To support us in our struggle against evil and in our striving to be worthy of the title “saint,” John (in the first reading) offers the assurance that we are not alone.  We are one with the numberless myriad who stands before God and the Lamb. We are as the author (in the second reading) reminds us, the loved children of God. Therefore, God has pronounced us blest (according to today’s Gospel, Matthew 5:1-12a). Whether we are poor or sorrowing, lowly, hungry or thirsty, when we show mercy and make peace, even when we are persecuted and insulted, we are the blest children, that is the sainted, holy ones of God, by whose power each one of us can survive the struggle and make a difference in the lives of those we touch. Today, we the saints on Earth join our voices with all who have gone before us, to announce to all who will come after us, that we are all God’s people in Christ.

 

 

Historical Reference to Praying for the Deceased

 

P rayerful remembrance of the dead has been an integral aspect of the Judeo-Christian faiths since the second century, B.C.E. The earliest, albeit disputed, reference to praying for the deceased can be found in Maccabees 12:30-45. Historically, the Jews, led by the brothers Maccabee were rebelling against the forces of Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who was attempting to suppress Judaism and replace it with Hellenism.

 

In the course of their struggle to retain their heritage, many Jews died in battle, whereupon Judas Maccabee ordered their bodies buried and that prayer and sacrifices be offered in expiation of their sins. The inspired author praised Judas’ effort saying, “He acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view” (2 Maccabees 12:43).

 

History of the Christian Prayers for the Departed

 

A mong the Christian scriptures, the only passage that can be adduced as evidence of prayers for the dead is that offered for Onesiphorus in 2 Timothy 1:18, “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day.”

 

In the second Christian century, the custom of praying for the dead is evidenced in the inscriptions on tombs, notably in the Roman catacombs. In his epitaph, Abercius (died circa 180 C.E.), Bishop of Hieropolis in Phrygia, asked that those who understood and agreed with him should pray for him.

 

The earliest mention of praying for the dead in public Christian worship can be traced to Tertullian in 211 C.E. He wrote that Christians observed the anniversary day of their departed, and Canons of Hyppolytus mentioned prayers for the dead during the celebration of the Eucharist.

 

By the fourth century C.E., the custom was universal. However, a special liturgical day for prayerfully remembering the dead was not established until the Middle Ages. The choice of November 2 is traditionally attributed to Odilo, the fifth abbot of Cluny (died 1048 C.E.). Scholars suggest that the church was hesitant to set aside a particular Feast for departed souls due to the tenacity with which superstitious pre-Christian rites for the dead continued to retain their hold on the faithful.

 

To combat these and other erroneous ideas, the Church encouraged believers to foster a more-authentic concern for the dead. The custom of celebrating three masses on All-Souls’ Day seems to have originated among the Spanish Dominicans during the 15th century. Approved by Pope Benedict XIV in 1748, this practice was rapidly adopted throughout the Latin Church.

 

Editor’s Notes: The above excerpts were lifted from Monsignor Jim's "From the Pastor" column in the weekly bulletin of the St. Denis Catholic Community. Permission is still being obtained as of press time. The St. Denis Catholic Church is located at 2151 S. Diamond Bar Blvd., Diamond Bar, CA 91765. Its website is http://stdenis91765.parishworld.net. Phone is (909) 861-7106.

 

P ost Script: The Christian tradition of honoring the dead, which also a practice of many pre-Hispanic natives of what became the Philippines, was introduced to the Philippine archipelago by Spanish friars. As described in this article written by Bobby M. Reyes, How Filipinos Reinvented Christmas, “the Augustinian religious order sent priests with the 1564-65 expedition as commanded by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, who named the archipelago after King Philip II (1527-1598). In 1577 the Franciscan missionaries arrived in the Philippines to continue the Christianization of the Philippine Islands. The Jesuits arrived in the Philippines in 1581.  The Dominicans came to the Philippines in 1587, with a Dominican bishop coming, however, with the Jesuits in 1581.” Obviously, as mentioned in the commentary of Monsignor Jim Loughnane, the Spanish Dominicans introduced the All-Souls’ Day practice. Filipino Christians celebrated and continue to celebrate, however, more the All-Saints’ Day (Todos los Santos, as still called in the Philippines) instead of All-Souls’ Day, although the Roman Catholic Church of the Philippines continues to observe both days, including the three-mass tradition on November 2nd. # # #


 


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