All Saints and All Souls: All Souls 2018
Today is the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed. Commonly referred to as All Souls’ Day, it is an invitation for us to prayerfully remember those who have passed away. We pray that the faithful departed may enter the full beatific vision of union with God, thus seeing God face to face.
The first historical evidence for a celebration such as All Souls’ Day comes from St. Isadore of Seville, who died in 636. It gradually spread until Rome accepted it in the 13th century. However, the practice of praying for the dead goes back to St. Paul and the early church.
Tertullian, one of the Church Fathers, is the first to mention prayers for the dead: “The widow who does not pray for her dead husband has as good as divorced him”. This passage occurs in one of his later writings, dating from the beginning of the 3rd century. Subsequent writers similarly make mention of the practice as prevalent.
The celebration of All Souls’ Day is also an opportunity for us to reflect on the inevitability of our own death and how we want to prepare for it. I have lived and worked with many older Jesuits over the years.
One of my assignments involved overseeing the Jesuits in Rene Goupil House, our Jesuit infirmary. As such, I have had an amazing opportunity to witness old age, illness, and death, and the differing ways that people deal with it. I’m learning a lot about how I want to age and face death.
I know that I can’t control what will happen to my body between now and my death, nor can I set the means of my death. I’ll admit that I pray not to go through dementia or a lingering physical illness. Like most of us, I want to be dead before I hit the floor, or to not wake up some morning.
I can’t control that! But, I can certainly have some say over how I will face the inevitable. I’ve seen my share of older Jesuits who are graceful in their aging and in facing death.
They bring to mind a line from Psalm 92: “They are planted in the house of the Lord … in old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap.” I have also experienced my share of them who are anything but graceful.
St. Ignatius of Loyola said that we should be as edifying in our old age and dying as we are in our active apostolic life. I hope that I am edifying in my old age and in my approach to death, even if I develop a lingering illness.
Many parish communities have a practice in November to remembering the dead. Parishioners are invited to place at the altar lists of names of those to be remembered at the daily Mass.
In Latin America, it has become customary to call the word presente after the recitation of the name of someone who has died in the struggle for peace and justice. It is a way of honouring and calling forth the persons, in a sense indicating that they are still present with us.
By commemorating our faithful departed at the daily Mass, we are acknowledging the same thing – that they are present to us, in a new way.
We recognize that presence each time we remember and live out of all that they taught us and passed on to us.
We celebrate those who have preceded us in death. We can take time to recall the many gifts they gave us. In that, they play a role similar to the saints. With both saints and the ceased, we have women and men who can intercede for us.