TODAY November 1 is All Saints Day in the Roman Catholic Church. Liturgically, it is formally called the Feast (or Solemnity) of All Saints.
Tomorrow November 2 is All Souls Day. It is formally called “the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed.”
This confusion is a sure sign that many Filipinos who are supposed to be Catholics (because they were baptized as such) don’t know the difference between All Saints Day and All Souls Day. But at least some of these Catholics still use All Saints Day to pray for their dear departed, light candles when they visit their parents’ and siblings’—and other loved ones’—graves.
There are Catholics who have become pagans. These are those who don’t observe All Saints and All Souls but do celebrate Halloween on October 31st, which is the eve of All Saints Day. They celebrate Halloween as nothing more than an evening for letting their children wear costumes and go from door to door in their gated villages to do “trick or treat.” The homes visited are supposed to be so terrified of being “tricked” by the devil himself so they offer treats, like candies and other goodies.
In the old days, the trick or treat costumes children wore were mostly those that made them witches with broomsticks or horned devils wielding lances or pitchforks. Now many kids are dressed as Spiderman or Batman or Robin or some other comic-book superheroes. And some of the parents, those who don’t care about going to the cemeteries to pray for their departed parents and siblings, give dinners and hold parties.
Fun, good food and drinks are fine. But they have nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that in the universal Roman Catholic Church All Saints Day is a holy day of obligation—meaning to say that it is to be treated like a Sunday and the faithful has a duty to go to Mass. Although the hierarchy in the Philippines has ruled that going to Mass on the very next Sunday fulfills the obligation for All Saints Day.
What the Holy Mother Church asks us to do on this important day is honor all the saints—even those who have not been canonized. Canonized saints are those whose names are written in the formal roster of saints declared by the Popes and bishops to be in heaven because of their heroic holiness. The saints we honor today are those who are in heaven but are not declared to be so publicly.
We are reminded today that everyone should not forget that his or her goal is to be holy, to be a saint. For only sanctified people can be in heaven. These are men and women—and children—who died as martyrs, or lived cheerfully as true “other Christs” in their families and work places, and died in the fullness of grace and after confessing their sins and being sacramentally absolved, and after making atonements for their sins. Some of these unknown saints are already in heaven because they have fully undergone purification in Purgatory—thanks to our prayers and the intercession of those who are in heaven.
Communion of Saints
This feast of All Saints and tomorrow’s feast of All Souls should remind us of the Communion of Saints. This is the unity of all the faithful, whether still on earth or already in heaven or still in Purgatory awaiting purification. Those in Purgatory are being made fully sanctified or made fully holy, for only those who have been given the grace of being engoddened can be in heaven.
We are a Communion of Saints because those of us still alive here on earth can help sanctify with our prayers those who are still in Purgatory. Our prayers work together with the prayers of those who are in heaven, like Mother Mary and St. Joseph, St. Josemaria and Blessed Alvaro, St. Ignatius and Francis Xavier, St. Dominic and St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Francis—and perhaps our long dead parents, uncles and aunts, too, and the priests to whom we went to confession and spiritual guidance, and the catechists who first taught us how to say the rosary.
But we can’t begin to be genuinely part of the Communion of Saints if we don’t remember them at all.