When is All Souls Day (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with Roman Catholic populations
Observed on November 2
Observed by Roman Catholics
In the Catholic faith All Souls’ Day is a day of remembrance for one’s deceased loved ones. This festival originated as the early pagan celebration of the dead.
These pre-Christian people believed that their deceased loved ones would come back for a meal with their families. Candles were placed near the windows to guide the souls back home, and there were special places set at the table for them. Young children went from house to house asking for food for the returned deceased and gave what they had received to the poor.
On All Souls’ Day the living pray for those who are in purgatory. All Souls’ Day deliberately follows the celebration of All Saints’ Day in order to shift the focus from those in heaven to those in purgatory (where souls are cleansed before going on to heaven). It is observed with festivities and a Mass.
The Feast of All Souls is a reminder of the necessity of living a pure life. According to Catholic belief, it is imperative for souls in purgatory to suffer in order to be purged of their sins. All Souls’ Day is a time to pray for those souls so that they can enter heaven.
Origins and History
Certain beliefs linked with the festival are of pagan origin, a blending of beliefs from the Old and New Worlds. Before it was turned into a church festival in 998, All Souls’ Day in Europe was marked with observances from the festival of Odin or Woden, the supreme god of wisdom and war in Norse (Viking) mythology. Odin was believed to welcome the spirits of brave warriors (Einherjar) into his grand hall Valhalla. The souls of these warriors were gathered to aid the gods in Ragnarok (the final battle of the world). In order to get the very best warriors into Valhalla, Odin was believed to start wars and then send his Valkyries (female divinities who served him) to make the battles go the way he wanted them to go and to choose the dead who would reside in Valhalla.
In South America the Spanish conquest in 1521 resulted in a blending of Catholic and Amerindian beliefs. The Aztec calendar had two months dedicated to observances for the dead, including a grand feast for dead adults in the 10th month. The ninth month was dedicated to dead children. The Aztecs believed that the souls of dead people had to go through nine stages before reaching Mictlan, the place of the dead, and that their destiny was set at the time of birth. They also believed that the fate of peoples’ souls depended on how they died (which also determined the region to which their soul would go), rather than the quality of the lives they had led. After arriving at their specific destination, the souls either awaited transformation or lingered, waiting for their next destiny. It is possible that some of the practices and beliefs surrounding All Souls’ Day (or Day of the Dead) can be traced back to that cultural fusion as well.
All Souls’ Day is the day reserved in the Roman Catholic Church to honor the souls waiting in purgatory to enter heaven. Souls that have not been cleansed of venial sins, or those who have not repented for past transgressions, cannot enter heaven. Catholics believe, however, that the Masses and prayers of living members of the church will help their deceased friends and families get into heaven. To that end the clergy perform three requiem Masses to help the souls proceed from purgatory to heaven: one Mass for the departed, one Mass for the celebrant, and one Mass for the pope.
The custom of celebrating this day started separately from that of the Feast of All Saints on November 1. The Feast of All Souls can be traced back to the seventh-century monks, who offered Mass on the day following Pentecost for their departed community members. In the late 10th century, the Benedictine monastery in Cluny, France, decided to schedule the Mass for their deceased on November 2, the day following the Feast of All Saints. This tradition broadened, and in the 13th century Rome officially added the feast to the church calendar.
There are many customs connected with All Souls’ Day celebrations. In many Catholic homes, an altar is built for offerings of food. It is said that the dead consume the offering in spirit, while the living eat it later. The offerings, are often decorated with marigolds, the flower of the dead. A candle is lit for each departed soul. Incense is widely used, and photos, mementos, and other objects connected with the deceased adorn the altar.
During the Reformation, the observance of All Souls’ Day was eradicated in the Anglican Church, although it has been reinstated in some churches in England, in association with the “Catholic revival.” Among Protestants in Europe, the custom has been more stubbornly maintained. Even Martin Luther’s authority was not adequate to eradicate its observation in Saxony (in Germany) during the great Protestant leader’s lifetime, and the festival’s memory survives in popular customs among Lutherans. In France, it is customary for people, regardless of rank or creed, to adorn the graves of their departed; in Germany people go to the cemeteries to offer flowers.
It is a long-standing belief in many countries that on one night of the year the souls of the dead return to their worldly homes, where they must be given food. If shelter or food is not given, the spirits cast spells on the house. In Tirol, Austria, cakes are left for the deceased on the table and rooms are kept warm for their comfort. The people of Brittany (in northwestern France) gather in cemeteries at nightfall to kneel bareheaded at the graves of their loved ones, and then sprinkle the tombstones with holy water or milk. Before bedtime, supper is left on the table for the souls.
The trio of celebrations comprising All Saints’ Day Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day came to be known as Hallowmas.