Saturday, October 31, 2009

Marking All Souls: Further Ideas for Living the Liturgical Life

As previously mentioned, All Souls Day provides teaching opportunities to remind ourselves and our families of the need to offer prayers for the dead, of the reality of Purgatory, and of the Four Last Things more generally.

This can re-emphasize for us the pursuit of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and keeping our eyes fixed on Godly and heavenly things, working out our salvation, avoiding sin and living virtuously.

How then might we take advantage of this opportunity? We have spoken on the NLM many times before of living a liturgical life; that is to say, uniting ourselves to the liturgical life of the Church, first and most primarily by our participation in the sacred liturgy itself, and second by uniting our other spiritual practices to the liturgical time.

Here are a few ideas.


Evidently, going to Mass on All Souls is the single most important way of marking this day.

Pray the Office for the Dead

The Divine Office (or Breviary/Liturgy of the Hours) is of course also a part of the liturgical life of the Church, following after the Mass.

Accordingly, praying the Office of the Dead on this day would be very meritorious -- just as praying the Office generally is of merit and to be encouraged, and as the Church herself encourages.

Where this is not yet publicly available in our parish churches (which, sadly, is yet most places), this is a practice that can be at least pursued privately by individuals, by groups of individuals, or by families.

Visit a Graveyard

People will often go on their own, with friends, or with family to graveyards/cemeteries on "decoration days" to decorate the graves of their loved one's with flowers, but why not also consider visiting their graves on All Souls Day?

Even if the graves of your beloved deceased are not in a nearby graveyard or cemetery, you can still make a visit to a church graveyard or cemetery generally.

When you make this visit, offer your prayers -- whatever the form -- for the dead. This act can be a pertinent memento mori for adults, provide an opportunity for performing this spiritual work of mercy, and I would highlight that this could be a particularly memorable tradition for families with children, emphasizing these practices and spiritual realities to them, which they will no doubt carry with them through their own adult lives.

Burn an Unbleached Beeswax Candle at Home on this Day

We have spoken of the symbolism of unbleached beeswax candles and their presence within our churches liturgically on this day.

You can extend this liturgical aspect and tradition into your own domestic church as well by purchasing one or a few unbleached beeswax candles (often available from many kinds of shops) which you can light in your home on All Souls Day. When you light it will be up to you and dependent on your schedule, but certainly having it lit while you are at home and tied to some prayer for the dead will be good way to introduce this and a pertinent reminder on this day.

As it relates to children, this will also provide a good opportunity for mystagogical catechesis about why our Latin rite tradition uses unbleached beeswax candles and the colour black on this day.

(Evidently people must use common sense appropriate to their situation when burning candles in their homes as it relates to safety.)

Other Suggestions and Traditions

If any have their own suggestions and family traditions they would like to share, please use the comments.

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