On this mountain, The lord of hosts will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food. On this mountain he will remove, the mourning veil covering all peoples, and the shroud enwrapping all nations, he will destroy death forever. Isaiah 25:6-7
In many places throughout the world, and indeed in a number of parishes where I have ministered in Australia, All Souls Day has a special place in the spiritual life of the people. A Mass is said in the local cemetery where the graves of deceased family members have been tidied up and decorated in preparation for the gathering of the faithful, writes Bishop Christopher Saunders.
Sometime during the Eucharist the priest arranges for the blessing of all the graves. Holy water, usually that blessed at Easter, is provided for the faithful so that they actively participate in the blessing of the resting places of their loved ones.
At an evening celebration many in attendance at the special Liturgy bring candles and lanterns, the light from which dispels the darkness of the approaching night reminding us that it is the light of Christ which brings a shining hope to all.
After Mass, family groups and individuals sit around the graves recollecting and praying for those who have touched their lives and for those souls who might not yet be in the full presence of God.
On All Souls Day, as at every funeral, we pray during the Mass in gratitude to God for these human lives, divine gifts to the world that they have been. As we remember the dead we commend them to the mercy of God that they may be cleansed of sin, completely sanctified in Christ, to be free to experience the beatific vision.
We include in our prayers not only deceased relations and friends, people with whom we have been familiar, but also those whose death has never been communicated to us. The Liturgy prayed on this day is overwhelmingly inclusive, drawing into our prayers all those who await the fullness of their reward; an eternity in the presence of our loving Creator.
There is another aspect of All Souls Day celebrations that is helpful and instructive. That is, the assistance which the Masses and any associated devotions afford us in dealing with the matter of death in our lives.
Everyone on this earth is knowledgeable regarding the inevitability of death but many people do not know how to endure the prospect of dying or how to contend with the death of a loved one – a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling or a close friend.
This is especially so in post-modern times where an all too common erosion of faith has deprived many people of a rigorous belief in the resurrection of Christ and his victory over death. To the Christian, death is not a taboo subject.
In fact death, is a human condition we live with! The person of faith knows that it is merely a step to pass through on the way to fulfilling God’s plan.
Happily, at the time of a death in a community, we also meet families who have a deep faith and what is most noticeable is that they celebrate the life of the deceased person confident in the mercy of God and the promise of everlasting life. For them, as the Scriptures teach us, death has no sting.
They sorrow, they grieve, they feel the emptiness that death often brings but importantly they cope. More than that, they enjoy the support and strength which faith engenders in them during this time of sad loss.
All Souls Day binds people together in intention and worship as demonstrated in the opening prayer of the Mass: “Merciful Father, hear our prayers and console us.
As we renew our faith in your Son, whom you raised from the dead, strengthen our hope that all our departed brothers and sisters will share in his resurrection, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever.
Amen” Further, the Liturgy assists us to focus on our hopes and desires for others, and subsequently, for ourselves: “Lord, may our sacrifice bring peace and forgiveness to our brothers and sisters who have died. Bring the new life given to them in baptism to the fullness of eternal joy.”
On this day of the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed the Church asks us to pray for the dead, with enthusiasm and great joy, that they might see God:. “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life. And I will raise them to life on the last day.” John 6:40
Christopher Saunders is Bishop of Broome and Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council