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All Souls Day - 2nd Nov 2016

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All Souls Day

Losing a loved one is a significant part of all our lives. We’ve all been impacted by it and have experienced the many different processes of attempting to overcome it. There are many ways to help overcome grief whilst commemorating the life of someone who remains a significant part of our hearts. 

All Souls Day, or respectively known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful departed, is a Remembrance Day for all those that have passed and are on their journey towards Heaven. Following the Roman Catholic belief, the tradition of All Souls Day and All Saints Day dates back to as early as the eleventh century through monasteries and practices such as that of the Roman custom Lemuria., but is celebrated primarily within the modern Catholic, Christian and Anglican Church today. 

All Souls Day, celebrated on November the 2nd, is a way to commemorate and preserve the memories of those who are no longer with us, whilst seeking for their peaceful transition into Heaven. As a relation to ‘The Day of the Dead’ celebrated in Mexico or the Chinese Ghost Festival, many people choose to commemorate their loved ones by decorating their burial places with flowers, lighting candles in memoriam and seeking prayer for the souls of those that have passed on. 

Whether celebrated with joy, nostalgia or sorrow, the lives of those we have lost are given a chance to be remembered and immortalised on All Souls Day through prayer and memories, along with the Catholic belief of being able to transition into heaven peacefully and with guidance.

Cleansing rituals

Part of the ritual of All Souls Day is a way for humanity to encourage the cleansing of souls through prayer. Prayer can be a way for us to comfort ourselves and seek guidance, whilst also acting as a form of healing for our own souls. The idea of prayer on All Souls Day is to seek guidance for our loved ones who have passed on if they haven’t yet found their way. 

Many rituals are taken place on both All Souls Day and All Saints Day to commemorate those we’ve lost. Customs such as lighting a candle to enlighten the path into Heaven for a lost soul, setting flowers to allow comfort for a spirit as believed in Ancient Rome or sharing food amongst others in a feast of celebration. On this day, three requiem masses are celebrated; one for the celebrant, one for the departed and one for the pope. The Catholic belief dating back to 998 is that when a person passes on, their soul begins its transition into Heaven, and through our prayers we are enlightening the way for any soul who might be lost behind. The rituals tend to take place on All Souls Day, as All Saints Day commemorates the spirits of the saints of the Church who have already reached Heaven.

All Souls Day and All Saints Day, What’s the difference?

If you’re aware of All Souls Day already, then you’ve probably heard about All Saints Day too. Following the same beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, All Saints Day is very similar in that it follows the custom of remembrance. However, All Saints Day is dedicated to the saints of the Church and is a holy day of obligation. 

The belief is that the saints of the Church who have reached Heaven are given a day of dedicated and commemoration, as their souls have been cleansed and their journey into Heaven is complete. The slight variation between the two rituals is that All Souls Day seeks enlightenment for souls who haven’t yet found their way to Heaven whilst All Saints Day commemorates the spirits that have journeyed through to Heaven.

How did All Souls Day begin?

Dating back as early as 313 after the legalization of Christianity, various customs for the commemoration of Saints began to appear throughout the Church. In the East, the city of Edessa celebrated a feast on May 13th whilst in the West a commemoration for all saints was celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost. A common feast day would then be established in Rome under Pope Boniface IV in 609, who titled May 13th the day of St. Mary and All Martyrs. According to Church historian John Beleth, Pope Gregory officially transferred the feast from May 13th to November 1st, declaring it the Feast of All Saints.

Following on from the Feast of All Saints is the adoption of All Souls Day, formerly known as the Feast of All Souls. Beginning in the 6th century, many customs for souls who were believed to be misguided on their path to Heaven were commemorated on a separate date, for instance the Benedictine monasteries held commemoration of those deceased following Pentecost during the 6th century. Many rituals developed thereafter and by 1048, the Abbot of Cluny decreed for all the Cluniac monasteries that separate prayers and commemorations be held for those who are still thought to be journeying into Heaven. Shortly after the Benedictines adopted the same devotion and the Feast of All Souls was declared for the day following All Saints Day, November the 2nd.

All throughout the world, many people come together to celebrate the lives of those that have passed on. Whether it’s by seeking prayer together, feasting together or decorating burial sites together, everyone has their own way of overcoming loss. All Souls Day can be related to Day of the Dead which is celebrated in Mexico and Defuncts’ Day which is celebrated in Hungary, France, Italy and Ecuador. 

During Day of the Dead, practices such as creating altars in remembrance of a loved one or cleaning the burial site someone who has passed and decorating it with a combination of flowers, photos and candles are a regular occurrence. The symbolic nature of planting flowers and lighting candles for spirits is to provide comfort if a spirit returns home, as presented through flowers and a feast. But also, guidance if a spirit has either returned home or is seeking enlightenment in order to move forward in their journey, as represented with the burning of candles. 

Through various rituals and acts of remembrance, our loved ones can be cleansed of any misguidance and sent onwards with their journey towards Heaven.  

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