If you were to walk past my parish on your dark and damp walk on the evening of Nov. 2 in years past, you would have heard the strains of Mozart’s Requiem drifting outward from the bronze doors of St. James Cathedral, Seattle.
For over a decade, St. James has given a Mass complete with choir and orchestra to pray for those who have died. During the procession, the funeral registers are carried in and given a place of honor at the cathedral crypt during the Mass.
The registers contain the names of all those who have been buried from the cathedral over the past 100 years.
On Nov. 2, as a church, we observe All Souls’ Day, a day of prayer and remembrance for the souls of those who have died. The day concludes the season of what was once called Allhallowtide, which includes All Saints’ and its eve, Halloween.
On Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day, we remember those who have died “in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified” and have attained heaven (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1023). On All Souls’, we pray for those whose venial sin has caught them in purgatory.
The pandemic has put my parish’s tradition on hold this year but cannot put a hold on our prayers. During a time when death has moved to the forethoughts of our mind, praying tenderly for those we have lost this year and in years past brings us closer to our Lord.
In past years, my children’s Catholic school has asked the children to write the names of the deceased on construction paper leaves in fall colors. The leaves are taped up in the chapel to remind parishioners and students to pray for those named.
My children always found comfort in finding the names of those they have loved and been loved by lining the walls of the church.
Another tradition I found quite lovely was that children brought photos of those souls lost for a communal altar. Our school is particularly diverse, so to see these photos of the families we have raised children alongside of for years made me feel especially close to them. What a gift to pray alongside them for their dear ones.
I do not see why we cannot continue this tradition in “Zoom School.” We can create our own space to commemorate our loved ones and remind us to pray for them. I notice the children are comforted in this practice as the names and photos remind us of stories we share together.
I cannot allow All Souls’ Day to pass without contemplating my own death. This is an ancient Christian tradition called “memento mori,” translated as remember you will die.
This is not a morbid or melancholy reflection but a call to live well. We do not know how many days we are given. We are called to live each day as one who loves our Lord and is loved by him.
We may not be able to gather at the great cathedral this year to pray on All Souls’ Day but I can press play on my iPhone until Mozart’s Kyrie fills our living room and light candles with my family and pray:
Our merciful Father,
We are connected to each other in your wonderous cloud of witnesses. We have seen glimmers of your glory and know that you love us and desire for us to be united with you. We pray for the loved ones who have died. May their penitence be short, that they may come into the fullness of your grace. Let your light shine upon them. May you grant them eternal rest. Amen.
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(Gonzalez is a freelance writer. Her website is www.shemaiahgonzalez.com.)