It was a cold October night when my grandfather passed away. I remember that night like a surreal dream. We had expected it; he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease when I was in high school, and as he grew older, his muscles deteriorated. The week leading up to his passing, he had contracted pneumonia, and beyond the statistical unlikelihood of his recovery, my heart just knew.
It’s funny, I don’t remember the journey home to be with my family after his passing, but what stands out vividly in my memory is how profound that night he left this world was for me, even 1,200 miles away. I had been invited to a prayer service and went out of sheer necessity. Upon arriving, a friend of mine asked if she could include my grandfather in the petitions and without hesitation, I agreed. It’s hard to put into words what happened that night. God spoke so perfectly to my soul, in exactly the way I needed Him to. And it wasn’t until I received the call from my brother that my grandfather had officially passed that I put the pieces together — God had just given me the most special gift of participating in ushering (through our prayers) my grandfather to Heaven.
We buried my grandfather on All Saints day. And, even today when I think about the perfection of God’s timing, I get emotional. Life doesn’t end when we leave this earth. When we ushered my grandpa home, he was welcomed by the saints.
All Saints for All Souls
All Saints Day is a beautiful celebration in the Church. It holds a special place in my heart for this reason, but also, because every day is a beautifully messy struggle to attain sainthood, myself. The origins of All Saints Day is unknown, but the practice of seeking the intercession of the saints has been around for centuries. All Saints Day is a day to praise God for Heaven. It is a day to ask for the prayers of all of those that have gone before us, that they lay our intentions down at the Father’s feet.
The Church is wise in securing this day as a Holy Day of Obligation. On November First, we are given an opportunity to not only remember and celebrate those who have gone before us but also to reflect on our own capacity for sainthood. The saints have set the bar high for us, but they don’t leave us high and dry in our pursuit of Heaven. They are here to share with us their example of faith and pray for us each step of the way.
Subsequently, the Church offers us an additional day of remembrance for the dead, “The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed” or “All Souls Day” which occurs on November 2nd. The origins of All Souls Day are a little more clear. This customary setting apart of a day to commemorate souls who have passed was established by St. Odilo of Cluny in 998. All Souls Day is a wonderful opportunity to remember the faithfully departed and those in purgatory with our prayers.
It’s also interesting to note that “All Hallow’s Eve” or Halloween as we know it today derived from being recognized as the eve of All Saints Day. Many cultures and religions celebrate holidays associated with death at this time in the year because the changing of the seasons reminds us of our own timetable on this earth.
Pray as a Family
While Halloween is a fun time to enjoy the many cultural experiences that this season brings, it is also followed by these two special days in the Church. Consider adopting one or two of these ideas as a new tradition for your family:
On (or near) All Saints Day
- Pray a Litany of the Saints as a Family
- Visit a church nearby and learn/discuss the saints on the walls of the church
- Watch a movie that tells the life story of a saint and discuss the movie after
On (or near) All Souls Day
- Pray the St. Gertrude Prayer or another prayer for the souls in purgatory
- Go to a cemetery and visit the grave of a deceased family member, pray for them there and all souls that are buried in that cemetery
- Find a local cemetery that celebrates Mass in their chapel on All Souls day and attend as a family.