All Souls’ Day
Today, November 2, is the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, otherwise known as All Souls’ Day. This may be stating the obvious, but today falls after November 1, All Saints’ Day.
As with any commemoration and tradition in the Church, the origin of All Saints’ Day has been clouded over time. A form of remembrance of martyrs is attested to as early as 270 and John Chrysostom referenced a festival of All Saints in the late 4th or early 5th Century. This practice evolved as a way for the members of the Holy Church to remember and commemorate those people who, through virtuous and godly living, and especially those who had professed their faith through a heroic death, were the heroes and exemplars of Christian living.
Over time people came to realize that there were many virtuous and godly people who had lived faithful lives worthy of commemorating in the life of the Church, but who were known only to God. In other words, people just like us – people who were virtuous, godly, and faithful; people who had problems and issues and trials; people who were a mixture of success and failure; but people who, through it all, remained faithful.
Today is the day we honor all faithful departed; today is the day we honor all souls. We will do some of this on Sunday, November 6, during our celebration of the Feast of All Saints when we read the necrology of those who have died this past year. We will remind ourselves that, even though they are no longer with us on this earthly pilgrimage, they are alive in Christ. We will be reminded that, for those who have died and for us yet to die, life is changed, not ended.
Today I am reminded of Mary, Bobby, Lester, Lucille, Paul, Tom, and others whose names I can no longer recall. I am reminded of those people who have no Feast Day in the Church year. I am reminded of people who gave of their time, talent, and treasure for no other reason than a sure and certain hope in the resurrection. And I am reminded that, for the vast majority of us, we toil for the gospel and mission of Christ in anonymity or, at best, short-lived recognition.
But that’s okay. We don’t strive for the recognition of men. We don’t give of our time, talent, and treasure for the sole purpose of putting our name on a plaque. We do this, as those plaques say, for the glory of God. Everything those saints of old did, everything those souls whom we commemorate today did, everything we do today, was and is to be done for one reason – to proclaim the message of Christ crucified and resurrected.
Today we remember all those people who have passed before us into glory. Today we give thanks for their lives and witness that provided the foundation of this church we love. Today we also remember that what we do now will become the foundation for the church of tomorrow, because at some point we will also pass into glory.
Gone but not forgotten; changed but not ended. On this day let us remember that we are indeed surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and let us give thanks for their lives in Christ.