No one can predict the coming of death but once there is life, death assuredly follows. Right on the heels of Halloween also called 'Day of the Dead', there are two very important days for Christians that also give reverence to the dead and the living, and that is All Saints' and All Souls' days. Defined by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary All Saints' Day, observed November 1, is a feast in honour of the saints while All Souls' Day, observed November 2, is defined as a day of prayer for the souls of the faithful departed.
"These days help us to reflect on the lives of those who have lived lives on earth closely following in the life of Jesus and are now with God in paradise," said editor of the Catholic News, June Johnson.
Shedding some light on the significance of both days, Johnson said, "When we think of saints, we form a picture of men and women who lived extraordinary and impossible lives. This is not really so. Saints are people just like us. They lived ordinary lives and struggled with ordinary problems. What made them saints were not their unblemished lives but their clear and unwavering focus on God and His people and their daily attempts to grow in faith, virtue and goodness."
Johnson noted while canonised saints made mistakes, failed, sinned and even experienced bouts of discouragement and depression just like the rest of us. What helped them rise above their problems and move on was their choice to pattern their lives on Jesus and the gospels.
She said, "They show us that we do not have to go far to find the path to holiness. It runs right through the circumstances of our daily lives. They teach us in words and actions how to look beyond human sins and weaknesses and see the Holy Spirit at work. Saints who once lived on this earth and those who are living among us demonstrate that sainthood is more attainable than we think. They deal with others gently rather than violently, they share generously, they forgive others their failings, they suffer silently and often put others before themselves. Humility, willingness to work for justice, forgiveness and peaceful solutions are qualities they display."
White, a colour customarily worn by people for All Saints' Day, Johnson says it is also common for people to clean and beautify the graves of loved ones departed before November 1 and 2. She noted while many Latin American countries/Hispanic communities have grand celebrations in their cemeteries, this is not the practice in the Caribbean.
Looking at the origin of both days, Johnson said, "By the 4th century most churches in the East observed a festival in honour of all martyrs (those who had been killed for the faith). The date varied from region to region but was generally kept within the Easter to Pentecost period. The observance gradually became a commemoration of all saints and was moved to November 1. This new date seems to have originated in Ireland as a replacement for a Celtic feast (Druids celebrated New Year's Day on November 1). Once it was moved to this date the significance changed focus to the dead and saints. Catholics have long observed November as the month for remembering the communion of the saints (All Saints) and praying for all the souls who have gone before us (All Souls)."
She said, "All Souls' Day is the day when we remember the faithful departed. This feast day is observed principally by Catholics although Anglicans also celebrate it."
She noted that this is a day that we should not let pass by without taking time to remember those family members, friends and acquaintances who are no longer with us.
"We should also take time to recall all the pleasant occasions spent together. To commemorate this day, Catholics and Anglicans light candles at home and at the cemetery in memory of the faithful departed. Relatives and friends also offer Holy Mass and other prayers for those who may be in purgatory. As we pray for those who have passed on from this life, let us look and see whether we are being the kind of person God yearns for us to become. It is a time to look around at the persons in our life and see if we have loved them well enough. It is a sobering time to remember that one day we too will leave this life and travel on to the next," Johnson said.
"Candles (light) are a sign of the triumph of life over death. For the faithful Christian in death life is changed, not ended. At Easter and at baptisms a large candle (the paschal candle) is lit to recall that Christ died and rose from the dead and is still alive. That same fate awaits those who believe in Him and follow His way. Even though we die, we will live forever. Flowers too are a sign of life, beauty and consolation because as human beings we miss those we love who are no longer physically with us," she added.