by Rev. Jose Mayo, OFMCap
In our culture, All Saints' and All Souls' Days have traditionally been a time for family. Perhaps not in the celebratory manner that Christmas is but a time for family nonetheless. Some lament that in fairly recent, pre-pandemic years, a growing irreverence apparently started to creep into the annual remembrance of the departed; for long before, Undas (or Undras, from the Spanish "honras" referring to the offering of honors or respect) had been a recollected time devoted to their memory.
However, such recent shifts may have been signs of a growing and intuitive focus on the celebration of family ties among the living - themselves the legacy of the departed for whose memory they gather. In a way, don’t they actually give honor to the dead by the joy that marks the reunion of their enduring progeny?
If we take this further, All Saints' and All Souls' Days are moments that remind us that our families extend to our community of faith that itself extends beyond the earthly and into the afterlife.
Cemeteries are still closed due to pandemic.| 📷 Rajesh Pamnani, Getty Images
We honor on All Saints' Day all the members of the Church Triumphant, all the souls enjoying the beatific vision of God in heaven, among who are the canonized souls we've been assured of and who are surely only a minority of them all!
All Souls’ Day reminds us to pray for the souls of the Church Penitent, those departed faithful who may yet be in a state of purification in Purgatory: that sign of the loving patience of our infinitely Merciful God Who is also infallibly fair and rightfully just.
Despite being in the afterlife, one set of souls enjoying their eternal reward and the other being prepared to receive it in sure hope, we remain connected with them by the power of prayer and we are united with them as members of the one, mystical and undying body of Jesus Christ.
Thus, All Saints' and All Souls' Days are really about family both by blood and by spirit!
These are days we ought to spend by reaffirming and strengthening the bonds between us, be those among the earthly living or among those alive by baptism into the spirit of Christ.
However, public safety protocols have shuttered many cemeteries and have halted our annual pilgrimage to those holy places ("campo santo", a now-rarely-used synonym for "sementeryo") where their relics lay buried. This time, we have none of the vigils, of nostalgic chatter, of sometimes awkward encounters between much younger generations with elderly distant relatives who come to offer prayers.
Then again, this should remind us of another important characteristic of our community of faith: that we remain united no matter where we may be. We may have been deprived of the sacrifice of enduring traffic jams in order to actually be close to where our beloved departed lay resting but we nonetheless may continue to recognize and celebrate our communion with them!
Here are some possible ways to spend All Saints' and All Souls' Days meaningfully, despite being sequestered inside our homes:
1) As a family, sit down together and write down all the deceased family members you would have visited or you wish to pray for;
2) Take turns remembering stories about them; make a moment when the family shares and celebrates cherished memories of the departed;
3) Together, say the Rosary for all of them. As an act of loving penance for those who may be in Purgatory, you may wish to say the Rosary on your knees before the household altar;
4) Send a donation to your parish church as a Mass offering for your beloved deceased and together attend a Mass in their memory whether online or, if possible, physically;
5) Voice call, text, chat, or video call other family members to say hello and have a "Kumustahan".
Our physical separation and home lockdowns need not, and truly cannot, hold down our spiritual communion. In this age where means of communication are ubiquitous and generally affordable, staying out of touch can hardly ever be excused.
And especially for our beloved who have gone ahead of us to the afterlife, they're only one prayer away. Saying hello and putting in a good word for them to God won't even cost a single peso!
Let All Saints' and All Souls' Days be truly about family: all of us, whether here on earth or in the hereafter, as God’s family.