The month of November begins with two great feasts: All Saints and All Souls. These feasts point towards the end of our lives and the promise of life in Heaven. As we come to the end of the Liturgical Year, the Church invites us to reflect on our own mortality and on the reality of death and that which comes after death. These themes correspond well with our Canadian transition to winter months, where everything in nature seems to go to sleep and darkness takes over part of our days. I invite all of us to take advantage of this time of year by entering into the meditations and reflections on our own mortality, and the beauty of God’s mysterious plan for our lives.
The feast of All Saints was established by the Church because a very large number of martyrs and other Saints could not be accorded the honour of individual celebrations, since the days of the year would not suffice. Therefore, as the Prayer of the Mass states, “we venerate the merits of all the Saints by this one celebration.” There is another reason for the feast. Pope Urban IV mentioned it in the following words: “Any negligence, omission and irreverence committed in the celebration of the Saints' feasts throughout the year is to be atoned for by the faithful, and thus due honour may still be offered these Saints.” (Pope Urban IV, Decretale Si Dominum)
The commemoration of all the Holy Souls in Purgatory was introduced by St. Odilo, abbot of Cluny, about the year 1000. He prescribed that all the monks of his Benedictine congregation should offer the Holy Sacrifice and say prayers for the suffering souls every year on November 2. The popes in Rome gladly accepted this wonderful and charitable thought and extended the celebration to the whole Church. Since then, we do not only pray for the Holy Souls throughout the year, but have a special day devoted to their prayerful memory. Pope Benedict XV, in 1915. allowed all priests to say three Masses on All Souls Day, so our dear departed ones will receive greater help from us and an abundance of mercy from God. The main religious exercise we can perform on All Souls Day is, of course, to attend the Holy Sacrifice and offer it for the departed ones. That is why an ancient custom in many countries demands that at least one member of every family go to church and Mass. It is also a custom to say the Rosary or other prayers at home for the Holy Souls, and to offer up some acts of charity for them. Fr. Wojtek Kuzma