On the first two days of November each year, the Church commemorates two linked feast days: All Saints, and All Souls. All Saints is easy to understand: we remember all those who have lived lives of heroic holiness, whether the Church has canonized them or not. But on All Souls, we remember all those who have died, not just the spiritual superstars.
From the earliest days the church has prayed for the deceased. Their judgment is in the hands of God, and we trust in God’s mercy, but we also believe the God cares about us and our concerns, so prayers for our deceased loved ones are appropriate.
The feast day itself is rooted in the 2nd Century, and is reflected in the writings of Tertullian. St. Odilo of Cliny, in the year 988 established a memorial of all the faithful departed. Rome added the feast to the church’s calendar in the 13th century. In many parts of the world the celebration of this feast day is marked with particular energy, like el Dia del los Muertos in Mexico.
Where ever you are, it’s appropriate to mark All Souls Day by praying for those who have gone before us in faith. It’s also customary to visit the graves of our loved ones, and pray both for them, and for our own grieving and healing.
The feast of All Souls is a reminder to us of our mortality. Or, as one of my seminary professors once put it, “In the end, God’s gonna kill us all.” We are all finite, mortal creatures, who are loved by God who has endowed us with an immortal soul. Our ultimate destiny lies in God’s hands, and even death does not separate us from his love.