In a year where many of us have suffered the loss of loved ones, All Souls Day presents us with sacred opportunities. This day is set apart for people around the world to come together and honor our beloved departed. Officially named “The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed,” today gives us space to remember, grieve, celebrate, and pray for the souls of the deceased. As this day revolves around souls, it reminds us that our faith gives us hope in everlasting life.
How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God, . . . to delight in the joy of immortality in the Kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God’s friends.”St. Cyprian
As I shared the wisdom of a holy priest here before, we don’t celebrate events without our dearly departed; instead, we celebrate with them in Heaven.
Remembering the dead reminds us to keep an eternal perspective. It draws us back to the essence of what we believe, the truth that we proclaim in our Profession of Faith during the Mass, “…I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
This general custom of praying for the dead is rooted in the Scriptures, dating back to 2 Maccabees 12:42-46, when Judas took up a collection as an “atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.” We hope that if the souls of the dead are not yet in Heaven but are in purgatory, our offerings will release them.
Cultures have celebrated the dead for centuries. Pagans of ancient European civilizations celebrated the dead in the fall with bonfires, dancing, and feasting (history.com). While some have tried to connect paganism and Halloween with All Souls Day, the feast evolved separately in the life of the Church. “However, elements of pagan practices were perhaps ‘baptized’ by some cultures or attached themselves to the celebration of All Saints and All Souls” (Catholic Straight Answers).
To honor those that have gone before us, here are eight ways to honor the dead on All Souls Day.
1. Have a Mass Offered
The “source and summit” of our faith, the Mass is the highest form of intercessory prayer. In it, the perfect offering of the crucified and risen Christ is made present and offered back to the Father.
There are several ways to have someone remembered at Mass. Contact your Parish to arrange having a Mass offered for someone – in this case, a deceased loved one or for the souls in purgatory. Or search and find a religious order online (e.g., littleFlower.org, maryknollmasscards.org, missionofsacredhearts.org, etc.) that does Mass cards and enroll the deceased to have (a) Mass/Masses offered. When requesting a Mass, it is customary to give alms or make a free-will offering to the church or religious order.
2. Light a Candle
“I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness; no, he shall possess the light of life.” (John 8:12)
It is customary to honor our loved ones by lighting a candle to recall the Eternal Light.
Going back to the early Church, it is a longstanding practice. Lighting candles to obtain some favor likely originated from the custom of burning lights in the catacombs at the martyrs’ tombs. It was a sign of solidarity with the Church Militant, or Christians on earth. Burning in constant silent vigil, they became known as vigil lights (A Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals, by Ann Ball).
You can light a candle in your home or at a Church or Chapel. A beautiful idea I picked up from a woman in a Facebook group, Lauren, was to light a blessed beeswax candle and set it in a jar upon which you write the names (with a dry erase marker) of your deceased loved ones. A couple of places that make and sell beeswax candles: Bee Charmer Studios and Holy Face Shop.
3. Make a Home Altar (Ofrenda)
This draws from Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico, which begin on October 31stand end on November 2nd, All Souls Day. It is how Mexicans offer prayers and remembrance for deceased friends and family members.
Ofrendas, or offerings, are central to the Day of the Dead celebrations. Also called altares or altars, they are not for worship but meant to honor their ancestors’ memory. Ofrendas are set up on tables covered in fine linens; usually, a white tablecloth, covered in papel picado, or cut tissue paper. The ofrendas are then adorned in religious and personal articles for the beloved dead – such as Crucifixes, candles, saint statues, flowers, salt, water, copal or incense, pictures, personal items, food – including the pan de muerto or day of the dead bread. Learn more on inside-mexico.com.
4. Visit the Cemetery or Honor Their Remains
It is customary to visit loved ones at the cemetery. Bringing flowers is a symbol of love for the dead. The visit may be time to pray and talk, or perhaps a chance to tend to the upkeep or cleaning of the gravesite. Whatever you do, it is a time to reconnect and to be present.
As some prefer cremation, their remains may be kept elsewhere. My mother was in an urn that my dad kept until he passed, and then they were then buried together. Wherever they are, that is a space to honor them.
5. Call, Video Chat, or Visit with Another Loved One
Sharing stories about your loved ones with someone else who also is missing them is a beautiful way to keep their memory alive and tend to your own hearts. Take a little time to call, video chat, or visit that family member or friend—it will lift your spirits to be together and share precious memories. You might even hear some new stories!
6. Make or Do Something They Loved
Whether it was their favorite meal, drink, or treat – making and enjoying something they loved brings comfort. To remember both of our dads this year, my husband and I will probably eat Mexican food in their honor. It doesn’t need to be food—perhaps they loved an activity, sport, or hobby–but it is a gift to participate in something that was meaningful to them.
7. Pray the Office of the Dead
The Office of the Dead is a part of the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours – the Church’s official daily prayer) that invites us to pray for the deceased specifically. It can be recited with others or prayed alone.
To pray the Office of the Dead with the Scriptures, visit here or in the following publications:
- In the one-volume Christian Prayer (Catholic Book Publishing Company), in the back.
- In the one-volume Benedictine Daily Prayer: A Short Breviary, Second Edition (Liturgical Press).
- In each of the four volumes of the definitive theLiturgy of the Hours (also from Catholic Book Publishing)
- In the three-volume Breviarium Romanum/Roman Breviary (in English and Latin, according to the 1962 rubrics and published by Baronius Press)
- In Latin only in the two-volume Breviarium Romanum (Nova & Vetera Verlag).
(National Catholic Register)
8. Pray the Purgatory Prayer of St. Gertrude the Great
St. Gertrude the Great was a 13th-century German mystic, theologian, and Benedictine nun. Our Lord told her that whenever she recited the following prayer, “a vast number of souls from purgatory” would be freed from their suffering. (The Catholic Company)
Eternal Father, I offer thee the most precious blood of thy Divine Son, Jesus,
in union with the Masses said throughout the world today,
for all the Holy Souls in purgatory,
for sinners everywhere,
for sinners in the universal church,
those in my own home and within my family.
I pray that in whatever way you choose to honor our departed brothers and sisters, that you will experience peace and love. If you are grieving a loved one, my prayers remain with you and your families:
Eternal Rest, grant to them, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.”
If you need grief support or want to support someone grieving, please visit Red Bird Ministries. Our sister organization, they are a non-profit Catholic Grief Support Ministry and have many resources to help individuals and couples who have lost someone they love, with special attention for those who have experienced the loss of a child from pregnancy through adulthood, and those who have lost a spouse or parent.