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Frequently Asked Questions

What is All Saints’ Day?

All Saints’ Day (also known as All Hallows’ Day or Hallowmas) is the day after All Hallows’ Eve (Hallowe’en). It is a feast day celebrated on November 1by Roman Catholics and Anglicans.

It is an opportunity for believers to remember all saints and martyrs, known and unknown, throughout Christian history.

What is All Souls’ Day?

It is when the Church commemorates and prays for the holy souls in Purgatory, undergoing purification for their sins before entering heaven. All Souls’ Day is on November 2nd, the day after All Saints’ Day.

In the Philippines, this day is called “Undas,” “Todos los Santos” (literally “All Saints”), and sometimes “Araw ng mga Namayapa” (loosely “Day of the deceased”) is observed as All Souls’ Day. This day – or sometimes the previous or following day — is spent visiting the graves of deceased relatives, in which prayers and flowers are offered, candles are lit and the graves themselves are cleaned, repaired and repainted.

When did the practice start?

Remembering saints and martyrs and dedicating a specific day to them each year has been a Christian tradition since the 4th century, but it wasn’t until 609 AD that Pope Boniface IV decided to remember all martyrs. Originally, May 13 was designated as the Feast of All Holy Martyrs. Later, in 837 AD, Pope Gregory IV extended the festival to remember all the saints, changed its name to Feast of All Saints and changed the date to November 1.

Christians have been praying for their departed brothers and sisters since the earliest days of Christianity. Early liturgies and inscriptions on catacomb walls attest to the ancient practice of offering prayers for the dead, even if the Church needed more time to develop a substantial theology behind the practice. Praying for the dead is actually borrowed from Judaism, as indicated in 2 Maccabees 12:41-42. In the New Testament, St. Paul prays for mercy for his departed friend Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:18). Early Christian writers Tertullian and St. Cyprian testify to the regular practice of praying for the souls of the departed. Tertullian justified the practice based on custom and Tradition, and not on explicit scriptural teaching. This demonstrates that Christians believed that their prayers could somehow have a positive effect on the souls of departed believers. Closely connected to the ancient practice of praying for the dead is the belief in an explicit state called purgatory. The New Testament hints at a purification of believers after death. For example, St. Paul speaks of being saved, “but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15). Over time, many Church Fathers, including St. Augustine, further developed the concept of a purgation of sins through fire after death.

Today, though Catholics celebrate All Souls’ Day on November 2, as do many Anglicans and Lutherans, many Protestant reformers initially rejected All Souls’ Day because of the theology behind the feast (purgatory and prayers/masses for the dead), but the feast is now being celebrated in many Protestant communities. Some Protestants even pray for the dead. While the Eastern Churches lack a clearly defined doctrine of Purgatory, they still regularly pray for the departed.

Is it true that the celebration is pagan in nature?

As Christianity began to flourish in northern Europe and the British Isles, the Christians found well-entrenched pagan harvest/winter festivals. One of the best known was called Samhain. They determined that All Saints’ Day should be celebrated at the same time to directly challenge the sentiments of pagan festivals of the season, including Samhain.

These harvest/end-of-the-year holidays generally celebrated the end of the harvest, the beginning of winter, and death. Just as crops live and then die, just as the sun rules for a long time and then ”dies” until it shines for only a short time during the day, so all humans and animals eventually die. One of the common pagan beliefs was that the spirits of those who died during the previous year could not go to their ”final resting place” until they were properly prepared with possessions, wealth, food, and drink (either for themselves or to pay the god who ruled the next world). Until then, their spirits wandered where they had lived and died. A common pagan tradition was to assuage the spirits and send them off on a one-way trip to the nether world by ”treating” them. If a spirit was not ”treated” well, it would ”trick,” or haunt those who had neglected preparing it for leaving this world.

As northern Europe and the British Isles became Christianized, the Church saw that the pagan festivals still lured Christians to compromise their faith. Consequently, the Church in those areas designated October 31 and November 1 as the “Holy Evening” and Holy Day of All Saints. The Church not only sought to give Christians an alternative, spiritually edifying holiday; but also to proclaim the supremacy of the Gospel over pagan superstition. There was no need to “assuage” the spirits or buy their way into the afterlife — eternal life is offered to all who believe in the atonement of Jesus Christ, who shed his blood to reconcile us to God and bring us eternal life. Rather than fearing the ”tricks” of those who have died, Christians reflected on the lives and deaths of those who were faithful and used them as role models for their own walks with the Lord, and thanked God for preserving the saints in the midst of suffering and persecution.

Christians should evaluate Halloween and determine an appropriate response for themselves and their own families. Further, Christians should refrain from any participation that would compromise one’s faith or bring dishonor to the Lord Jesus Christ. A good principle is to look for ways to become a positive, Christ-honoring voice in the midst of secularism and paganism. Each Christian must be persuaded in his own conscience about how he approaches Halloween.

Knowledgeable Christians, at the very least, will certainly want to avoid Halloween’s more obvious glamorization of the occult. The Bible is replete with warnings and examples of involvement with the occult. Occult practices are an abomination to the Lord (Deuteronomy 18:10-12) and witchcraft was a crime punishable by death in the Old Testament (Exodus 22:18). The New Testament gives several examples of proper Christian responses to the occult (Acts 19:19; 2 Corinthians 6:14).

Why do we pray for the dead?

We say prayers, not only for those whom we knew and loved, but also for the “poor souls.” Praying for the “poor souls” who may have no one else — no families, no children or grand-children — to pray for them is an act of charity that we can perform for them.

Be sure to mention that this respect for the dead is part of respect for all human life, which comes from God. Our heavenly Father gave us life, and we are all infinitely precious to him, and he wants us all to be with him in heaven forever. We can see, then, how a denial of death, or a refusal to accept pain, sorrow, and suffering as part of life, is really a denial of the value of life and love.

The section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on purgatory explains that “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven”.

Are there indulgences in this practice?

An indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, even if only mentally, for the departed. The indulgence is plenary each day from November 1 to 8; on other days of the year it is partial.

To acquire a plenary indulgence it is necessary also to fulfill the following three conditions: sacramental Confession, Eucharistic communion, and prayer for the intention of the Holy Father. The three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the visit; it is, however, fitting that communion be received and the prayer for the intention of the Holy Father be said on the same day as the visit.

The condition of praying for the intention of the Holy Father is fully satisfied by reciting one Our Father and one Hail Mary. A plenary indulgence can be acquired only once in the course of the day.

What prayers should we recite to commemorate the feast?

Catholic Collect from the Mass for the Dead

[for all our departed brothers and sisters]

Merciful Father, hear our prayer and console us. As we renew our faith in Your Son, whom You raised from the dead, strengthen our hope that all our departed brothers and sisters will share in His resurrection, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen

Requiem Aeternam

Eternal Rest grant unto them (him/her), O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them (him/her).

May they (he/she) rest in peace.

In Latin:  Requiem aeternam dona eis (ei), Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis (ei). Requiescant (-at) in pace. Amen.

Invocation for the Souls in Purgatory

My God, bestow Thy blessings and Thy mercies on all persons and on those souls in Purgatory for whom I am in charity, gratitude, or friendship bound and have the desire to pray. Amen

Prayer for Departed Parents

O God, who has commanded us to honor our father and mother: in your mercy have pity on the souls of my father and mother and forgive them their trespasses; and make me to see them again in the joy of everlasting brightness. Amen.

Prayer for a Departed Man

Incline Thine ear, O Lord, unto our prayers, wherein we humbly pray Thee to show Thy mercy upon the soul of Thy servant [N.], whom Thou hast commanded to pass out of this world, that Thou wouldst place him in the region of peace and light, and bid him be a partaker with Thy Saints. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer for a Departed Woman

We beseech Thee, O Lord, according to Thy loving kindness, have mercy upon the soul of Thy handmaiden [N.], and now that she is set free from the defilements of this mortal flesh, restore her to her heritage of everlasting salvation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer to Our Suffering Savior for the Holy Souls in Purgatory

O most sweet Jesus, through the bloody sweat which Thou didst suffer in the Garden of Gethsemane, have mercy on these Blessed Souls. Have mercy on them.

R. Have mercy on them, O Lord.
O most sweet Jesus, through the pains which Thou didst suffer during Thy most cruel scourging, have mercy on them.

R. Have mercy on them, O Lord.
O most sweet Jesus, through the pains which Thou didst suffer in Thy most painful crowning with thorns, have mercy on them.

R. Have mercy on them, O Lord.
O most sweet Jesus, through the pains which Thou didst suffer in carrying Thy cross to Calvary, have mercy on them.

R. Have mercy on them, O Lord.
O most sweet Jesus, through the pains which Thou didst suffer during Thy most cruel Crucifixion, have mercy on them.

R. Have mercy on them, O Lord.
O most sweet Jesus, through the pains which Thou didst suffer in Thy most bitter agony on the Cross, have mercy on them.

R. Have mercy on them, O Lord.
O most sweet Jesus, through the immense pain which Thou didst suffer in breathing forth Thy Blessed Soul, have mercy on them.

R. Have mercy on them, O Lord.

(Recommend yourself to the Souls in Purgatory and mention your intentions here)

Blessed Souls, I have prayed for thee; I entreat thee, who are so dear to God, and who are secure of never losing Him, to pray for me a miserable sinner, who is in danger of being damned, and of losing God forever. Amen.

St. Alphonsus Liguori (1697-1787), from his Novena for the Holy Souls in Purgatory

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