All Souls’ Day on Nov. 2 — often overshadowed by the holy day of obligation that immediately precedes it, All Saints’ Day — has a rich and important history of its own. The two feasts are intrinsically linked: All Saints’ Day memorializes the holy men and women who have already entered into the presence of God; All Souls’ Day remembers those whose fate is unknown, but who may still be in purgatory awaiting their final reward.
The entire month of November is dedicated to praying for the deceased. These faithful men and women have long been remembered in the Catholic Church at different times throughout the year. But in the 11th century, St. Odilo of Cluny chose the day following All Saints’ Day as an official day of prayer for all the Clunaic monasteries, and the date quickly became a fixture of the liturgical calendar.
Many parishes within the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend have long-established traditions to honor the faithfully departed and to pray for their entrance into heaven.
Mass of remembrance
The first and greatest way to remember the faithfully departed is through a Mass of remembrance said for their souls. Numerous parishes within the diocese have a Mass said for this particular intention on the feast of All Souls.
One of these parishes is St. Robert Bellarmine in North Manchester. The pastor, Father Dennis Di Benedetto, spoke with Today’s Catholic about the importance of such Masses.
“Indeed, the entire month of November is dedicated to praying for those who are being purified in the fires of God’s love in purgatory. Jesus tells us that nothing unclean shall enter heaven, so those of us who are not perfect when we die can expect at least a short stay in purgatory. Those who are there can pray for us but cannot pray for themselves. That is why we have a sacred duty to fast, pray, and make other sacrifices on behalf of the holy souls.
“The most powerful prayer we can offer for the holy souls in purgatory is to have the holy Mass said on their behalf.”
Corpus Christi Parish in South Bend holds an annual prayer service for their beloved dead.
“We remember all the parishioners who have passed away, particularly in the last year,” said Father Daryl Rybicki. All their names are read during the prayer service and candles marked with each person’s name are lit at the front of the church. “The Church calls us at all times to pray for the dead, so this is something we opted to do.”
Candles have great significance in remembering the dead. Father Francis Chukwuma, pastor of St. John Bosco Parish in Churubusco and Immaculate Conception Parish in Ege, began a ministry of using memorial candles during the month of November as a prayer for departed loved ones. He explained that the lights themselves symbolize prayers rising to God, similar to how incense rises to heaven.
The candles also serve as a reminder for family members and others who attend Mass or adoration to continue to pray for faithful Catholics who still might be undergoing purification in purgatory. The traditional Prayer for the Faithful Departed is printed on the front of the candles so that anyone who comes in to pray can say a short prayer for the person’s soul.
Father Chukwuma said, “Sometimes people are forgotten … I thought it would be nice to have a general prayer for the community.”
Both parishes even recognize with candles parishioners who may have passed on without any family members to pray for them. Prayers don’t have to come from family members to help ease the suffering of souls in purgatory, Father Chukwuma reminded.
“All people need our prayers. It is part of the mission of the Church to pray for the Church’s suffering.”
St. Joseph Parish in Bluffton has a similar tradition going back 10 years. Parish administrative assistant and director for religious education Michelle Paxton related that “the memorial candles are lit Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day, and remain lit throughout the month of November.” During a weekday Mass, the parish Knights of Columbus council specifically honors their members who have passed from this life.
Several parishes in the diocese, such as St. Vincent de Paul in Fort Wayne, St. Rose of Lima in Monroeville and Immaculate Conception in Ege were originally founded outside the Fort Wayne city limits and therefore permitted to establish cemeteries to inter their deceased members. Today, most of parishes that have parish cemeteries honor former parishioners by blessing the cemetery or holding special Masses for the dead within the cemetery grounds.
In Ege, Father Chukwuma holds a yearly cemetery blessing, a tradition that was already in place when he became pastor. It takes place on the Sunday closest to Nov. 2 and many parishioners and family members attend. He stated that he gives a communal blessing, then families will stand by the graves of their loved ones so that he can walk by, bless the grave with holy water and pray individually for each person by name.
Come, pray and leave rejoicing
St. Vincent de Paul actually has two cemeteries, one dating back to the 1840s and a more modern one. For the past seven years, it has celebrated an All Souls’ Day Mass in one of them. “It is very beautiful, it allows us to pray in the bodily presence of our ancestors in the faith,” said Father Daniel Scheidt, pastor.
In opportune timing, the parish’s new Oratory of St. Mary Magdalene will open its doors for perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament beginning on All Saints’ Day. The oratory itself has outside apse walls with niches that allow for members of the parish to have their ashes interred into the church building itself — to “literally surround the altar,” as Father Scheidt stated. He referred to 1 Peter 2, in which the book’s writer calls the faithful “living stones that Jesus uses to build the Church.”
The oratory was named for St. Mary Magdalene because she “was the first to go to Jesus’ tomb in tears and the first to leave rejoicing,” which is appropriate to remember on All Souls’ Day.
Father Scheidt explained that her example is an invitation for all the faithful to do the same: Come, pray and leave rejoicing.
A group devoted to remembering those from generations past gathers each year in St. Joseph Cemetery in Mishawaka. There, they pray a rosary for the souls of all laid to rest there and in the neighboring cemeteries.
Joe De Kever has been in charge of leading the annual Rosary for Poor Souls for roughly 30 years. He wants to ensure that the dearly departed are not forgotten.
“There’s something about reciting the rosary on a cool autumn afternoon with all those deceased persons surrounding us, the leaves falling all around … it reminds us that we’re all going to be down there someday,” De Kever said. “If we pray for the people who passed, maybe someday people will pray for us.”
De Kever commented that the crowd of attendees ranges from older people to young families, priests and laity, but there is a core of participants that returns each year to pray, “rain or shine.”
Remembering the departed by name
Praying for someone by name honors and remembers departed loved ones. St. Pius X remembers them by name in a litany during their Mass of remembrance and places the names in a corresponding worship booklet.
Every year at St. Anthony of Padua in Angola, parishioners are encouraged to write the names of their departed family members in a beautiful, cloth-bound book called the “Book of the Dead.” This year, the parish staff asked participants to write the names of loved ones on cards set out for this purpose and arranged these into a poster in honor of the deceased.
Bringing the month of November to a close will be the Evening of Heavenly Lights with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne. During this ceremony, luminaries purchased in memory of deceased loved ones will blessed and lit.
All Souls’ Day is not simply a day of sadness and sorrow, or simply fulfilling the duty of praying for the dead. As St. Joseph in South Bend told parishioners regarding their upcoming Mass of remembrance: “This liturgy provides an opportunity for us to renew our hope in Christ’s promise of eternal life.”
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.