Faithful departed are focus of All Saints, All Souls feast days - Catholic Courier
Children dress up as saints.

Fifth-grade students at Pittsford’s St. Louis Church dress as saints for All Saints Day Nov. 1, 2022. (Courier file photo)

Faithful departed are focus of All Saints, All Souls feast days

All Saints Day. All Souls Day.

These two special days are neighbors on the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar, falling on Nov. 1 and 2, respectively. And while they share similar names and encourage Catholics to remember the dead, each day has its own unique focus, according to Catholic scholars.

The feast of All Saints is a day when Catholics are encouraged to commemorate the saints, while the feast of All Souls is a day set aside for remembering those who have died and are in purgatory, said Susan Timoney, associate professor of practice in pastoral studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Purgatory is a period of purification that those who die in God’s grace and friendship must undergo after death “in order to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” according to Nos. 1030-1032 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The two liturgical celebrations remind Catholics of their life’s goal of reaching heaven, Bishop Salvatore R. Matano wrote in a November 2020 column in the Catholic Courier.

“These feasts link earth and heaven,” he wrote.

Canonized individuals are not the only saints in heaven

Yet the Catholic definition of a saint is a bit broader than many people realize, according to Lisa Lickona, assistant professor of systematic theology at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Pittsford.

“The idea of a saint is that it is just someone who is currently enjoying the fullness of God’s presence in heaven,” Lickona said.

Individuals who have been canonized certainly are among the saints, but they are not the only saints, Timoney added. However, the process of canonizing a particular saint does ensure that the individual’s life and deeds have been investigated and recognized, she said.

“What we’re saying by canonizing someone a saint is that we’re as sure as we can be that they’re in heaven with the Lord, and they’re no longer in purgatory,” Timoney said.

Canonized saints serve as role models and show us how to live holy lives, she said. There are thousands of canonized saints hailing from nations all around the globe who have lived out their faith in any number of different ways, making it easy for people to find saints they can relate to, she added.

“One of the beautiful gifts is just the extraordinary number and diversity of people and ways that they lived out their holiness. We have old saints and young saints and rich saints and poor saints, men and women from every continent,” Timoney noted.

Catholics ask the saints in heaven to pass their prayers on to God

Although Catholics celebrate saints on the feast of All Saints, they do not worship saints, Timoney and Lickona emphasized. Rather, Catholics venerate the saints, which means they honor them, recognize their holiness and acknowledge God’s work in these people, both professors noted. Statues and artwork depicting saints help Catholics to remember that these saints are in heaven, so they are well-positioned to receive intercessory prayers and pass them on to God, Timoney said.

“We ask that person — precisely because they are in that place of fullness — to pray for us and help us, in just the same way we would ask a friend for help,” Lickona added. “Pope Francis encourages us to be aware of the fact that we have saints in our own family, and not be shy about asking them for help.”

Catholics pray for those in purgatory on All Souls Day

All Souls Day also is a good time for Catholics to remember family members who’ve gone before them, Lickona said, adding that most people go to purgatory after they die so they can be purified before being in God’s presence in heaven.

The prayers of those still on earth can help the faithful departed as they go through this purification process, helping to move souls from purgatory to heaven, Timoney and Lickona said.

Catholics are also obligated to pray for the souls in purgatory, and this obligation is a source of comfort for many, Timoney said.

“It also means that when we die, the church will be praying for us,” she explained.

All Souls Day and All Saints Day provide opportunities for prayer and parties

All Souls Day should not be the only day when we pray for the souls of our departed loved ones, but the feast day does provide a perfect time to visit a cemetery and pray at loved ones’ graves, Lickona said. If traveling to the cemetery is not possible, lighting a candle might be a more accessible way of praying for loved ones. Placing photos of departed loved ones in a special place in the home also can remind those left behind to pray, Timoney said.

Catholics are encouraged to celebrate the saints — both those in their family and those who’ve been canonized — by attending Mass on the feast of All Saints, which is a holy day of obligation. At home, Catholic families might celebrate the day by reading the stories of family members’ favorite saints or their namesake saints.

One of Lickona’s favorite ways to celebrate the day is by throwing a party and asking guests to dress up as their favorite saints, which is a tradition a number of Catholic schools have adopted in recent years as well, Timoney added.

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