All Souls Day follows All Saints Day, and commemorates the faithful departed, those who die in God’s faith and friendship. However, Catholics believe that not all those who die in God’s grace are immediately ready for the Beatific vision, i.e. the reality and goodness of God and heaven, so they must be purified of “lesser faults,” and the temporal effects of sin. The Catholic Church calls this purification of the elect, “purgatory.”
The Catholic teaching on Purgatory essentially requires belief in two realities:
1. that there will be a purification of believers prior to entering heaven and
2. that the prayers and masses of the faithful in some way benefit those in the state of purification.
As to the duration, place, and exact nature of this purification, the Church has no official dogma, although Saint Augustine and others used fire as a way to explain the nature of the purification. Many faithful Catholics, including Pope Benedict XVI, grant that Purgatory may be an existential state as opposed to a temporal place. In other words, Purgatory may be something we experience instantaneously, because it is outside of the confines of created time and space. The official dogma of Purgatory is hardly offensive, even if the popular understanding of it has led to confusion. As a more everyday explanation, many liken Purgatory to a place to “clean up” oneself before going into the presence of Almighty God.
All Souls is the day to remember, pray for, and offer requiem masses up for these faithful departed in the state of purification. Typically Christians will take this day to offer prayers up on behalf of their departed relatives and friends. Others may remember influential individuals that they never knew personally, such as presidents, musicians, etc. This may be done in the form of the Office of the Dead (Defunctorum officium), i.e. a prayer service offered in memory of departed loved ones. Often this office is prayed on the anniversary (or eve) of the death of a loved one, or on All Souls’ Day.
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 ancientness of 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, Saint Paul speaks of being saved, “but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15). Over time, many Church Fathers, including St. Augustine, e.g. in Enchiridion of Faith, Hope, and Love and City of God, further developed the concept of a purgation of sins through fire after death.
In the early days, departed Christians’ names were placed on diptychs. In the sixth century, Benedictine communities held commemorations for the departed on the feast of Pentecost. All Souls’ Day became a universal festival largely on account of the influence of Odilo of Cluny in AD 998, when he commanded its annual celebration in the Benedictine houses of his congregation. This soon spread to the Carthusian congregations as well. The day was celebrated on various days, including October 15th in 12th century Milan. Today all Western Catholics celebrate All Souls’ Day on November 2
All Saint’s Day (or officially The Solemnity of All Saints) is instituted to honor all the saints, known and unknown, and, according to Urban IV, to supply any deficiencies in the faithful’s celebration of saints’ feasts during the year. In the early days the Christians were accustomed to solemnize the anniversary of a martyr’s death for Christ at the place of martyrdom.
In the fourth century, neighboring dioceses began to interchange feasts, to transfer relics, to divide them, and to join in a common feast; as is shown by the invitation of St. Basil of Caesarea (397) to the bishops of the province of Pontus.
Frequently groups of martyrs suffered on the same day, which naturally led to a joint commemoration. In the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. The first trace of this we find in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. We also find mention of a common day in a sermon of St. Ephrem the Syrian (373), and in the 74th homily of St. John Chrysostom (407).
At first only martyrs and St. John the Baptist were honored by a special day. Other saints were added gradually, and increased in number when a regular process of canonization was established; still, as early as 411 there is in the Chaldean Calendar a “Commemoratio Confessorum” for the Friday after Easter. In the West Boniface IV, 13 May, 609, or 610, consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs, ordering an anniversary. Gregory III (731-741) consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to all the saints and fixed the anniversary for 1 November. A basilica of the Apostles already existed in Rome, and its dedication was annually remembered on 1 May. Gregory IV (827-844) extended the celebration on 1 November to the entire Church.
Saint Wolfgang of Regensburg (d. 994) + Bishop and reformer, was born in Swabia, Germany, and was educated at a school located at the abbey of Reichenau. There he encountered Henry, a young noble who went on to become Archbishop of Trier. Meanwhile, Wolfgang remained in close contact with the archbishop, teaching in his cathedral school and supporting his efforts to reform the clergy.
At the death of the archbishop, Wolfgang chose to become a Benedictine monk and moved to an abbey in Einsiedeln, now part of Switzerland. Ordained a priest, he was appointed director of the monastery school there. Later he was sent to Hungary as a missionary, though his zeal and good will yielded limited results.
Emperor Otto II appointed him Bishop of Regensburg (near Munich). He immediately initiated reform of the clergy and of religious life, preaching with vigor and effectiveness and always demonstrating special concern for the poor. He wore the habit of a monk and lived an austere life.
The draw to monastic life never left him, including the desire for a life of solitude. At one point he left his diocese so that he could devote himself to prayer, but his responsibilities as bishop called him back.
In 994 he became ill while on a journey; he died in Puppingen near Linz, Austria. His feast day is celebrated widely in much of central Europe. He was canonized in 1052.
It is believed that Saint Marcellus was born in Arzas of Galicia. A brave pagan, he entered upon the career of arms, hoping to gain a large fortune. He married a young lady named Nona and they were blessed with twelve children. Saint Marcellus was a valorous solider and was promoted to the charge of centurion; he had no thought for any advancement except the sort pertaining to his military life, when he heard the fervent preaching of a holy bishop of the church of Leon. He was converted with his entire family to the Christian religion. All of them except his wife would soon give their blood in honor of their Faith.
Back in the ancient Roman Empire, some Christians refused to serve in the imperial armies believing that they could not do so in Christian conscience. If being a soldier meant performing pagan rites, as it sometimes did, obviously no Christian could do so. But the additional question was now and then raised: Is armed service in itself forbidden by the Christian law of love?
St. Marcellus the Centurion, after some years of military service, concluded that it was forbidden … at least according to his mature conscience.
The birthday of the Emperor Maximian Herculeus was celebrated in the year 298 with extraordinary feasting and solemn rites. Marcellus, as a centurion of the army, a captain in the legion of Trajan then posted in Mauritania or Spain, in order not to defile himself in these impious sacrifices, left his company, throwing down his cincture and his arms and declaring aloud that he was a soldier of Jesus Christ, the eternal King. He was at once committed to prison.
When the festival was over, he was brought before a judge, and having reiterated his faith, was sent under a strong guard to a prefect, Aurelian Agricolaus. This Roman officer passed upon him a sentence of death by the sword. Marcellus was immediately led to execution and beheaded on the 30th of October of the year 298. Cassian, the secretary or notary of the court, refused to record the sentence pronounced against the martyr, because of its injustice. He was immediately hurried to prison, and was beheaded in his turn on the 3rd of December.
The children of Saint Marcellus imitated his constancy, and all lost their lives for the defense of the Gospel; three of the boys were hanged and then decapitated at Leon. Their pious mother bought back their bodies for money and buried them secretly; they were later transferred to a church built in their honor in the city of Leon.
Saint Simon is surnamed the Zealot, to distinguish him from St. Peter, and from St. Simeon, the brother of St. James the Less, and his successor in the see of Jerusalem. Many think that St. Simon was called the Zealot, before his coming to Christ, because he was one of that particular sect or party among the Jews called Zealots, from a singular zeal they possessed for the honor of God and the purity of religion. A party called Zealots were famous in the war of the Jews against the Romans.
They were main instruments in instigating the people to shake off the yoke of subjection; they assassinated many of the nobility and others in the streets, filled the temple itself with bloodshed and other horrible profanations, and were the chief cause of the ruin of their country. But no proof is offered by which it is made to appear that any such party existed in our Saviour’s time, though some then maintained that it was not lawful for a Jew to pay taxes to the Romans At least if any then took the name Zealots, they certainly neither followed the impious conduct nor adopted the false and inhuman maxims of those mentioned by Josephus in his history of the Jewish war against the Romans.
St. Simon, after his conversion, was zealous for the honor of his Master, and exact in all the duties of the Christian religion; and showed a pious indignation toward those who professed this holy faith with their mouths, but dishonored it by the irregularity of their lives. No further mention appears of him in the gospels than that he was adopted by Christ into the college of the apostles. With the rest he received the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, which he afterwards exercised with great zeal and fidelity.
According to legend this apostle preached in Egypt, Cyrene, and Mauritania, and Persia. The Martyrologies of St. Jerome, Bede, Ado, and Usuard place his martyrdom in Persia, at a city called Suanir. His death is said in these Martyrologies to have been procured by the idolatrous priests. Those who mention the manner of his death say he was crucified. St. Peter’s Church on the Vatican at Rome and the Cathedral of Toulouse are said to possess the chief portions of the relics of St. Simon.
The Story of the Annunciation of the Lord
The feast of the Annunciation, now recognized as a solemnity, was first celebrated in the fourth or fifth century. Its central focus is the Incarnation: God has become one of us. From all eternity God had decided that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity should become human. Now, as Luke 1:26-38 tells us, the decision is being realized. The God-Man embraces all humanity, indeed all creation, to bring it to God in one great act of love. Because human beings have rejected God, Jesus will accept a life of suffering and an agonizing death: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Mary has an important role to play in God’s plan. From all eternity, God destined her to be the mother of Jesus and closely related to him in the creation and redemption of the world. We could say that God’s decrees of creation and redemption are joined in the decree of Incarnation. Because Mary is God’s instrument in the Incarnation, she has a role to play with Jesus in creation and redemption. It is a God-given role. It is God’s grace from beginning to end. Mary becomes the eminent figure she is only by God’s grace. She is the empty space where God could act. Everything she is she owes to the Trinity.
Mary is the virgin-mother who fulfills Isaiah 7:14 in a way that Isaiah could not have imagined. She is united with her son in carrying out the will of God (Psalm 40:8-9; Hebrews 10:7-9; Luke 1:38).
Together with Jesus, the privileged and graced Mary is the link between heaven and earth. She is the human being who best, after Jesus, exemplifies the possibilities of human existence. She received into her lowliness the infinite love of God. She shows how an ordinary human being can reflect God in the ordinary circumstances of life. She exemplifies what the Church and every member of the Church is meant to become. She is the ultimate product of the creative and redemptive power of God. She manifests what the Incarnation is meant to accomplish for all of us.
Sometimes spiritual writers are accused of putting Mary on a pedestal and thereby, discouraging ordinary humans from imitating her. Perhaps such an observation is misguided. God did put Mary on a pedestal and has put all human beings on a pedestal. We have scarcely begun to realize the magnificence of divine grace, the wonder of God’s freely given love. The marvel of Mary—even in the midst of her very ordinary life—is God’s shout to us to wake up to the marvelous creatures that we all are by divine design.
Blessed Oscar Romero’s Story
The night before he was murdered while celebrating Mass, Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador said on the radio: “I would like to appeal in a special way to the men of the army, and in particular to the troops of the National Guard, the police, and the garrisons. Brothers, you belong to our own people. You kill your own brother peasants; and in the face of an order to kill that is given by a man, the law of God that says ‘Do not kill!’ should prevail.
“No soldier is obliged to obey an order counter to the law of God. No one has to comply with an immoral law. It is the time now that you recover your conscience and obey its dictates rather than the command of sin. . . . Therefore, in the name of God, and in the name of this long-suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven every day more tumultuous, I beseech you, I beg you, I command you! In the name of God: ‘Cease the repression!’”
Simultaneously, Romero had eloquently upheld the gospel and effectively signed his own death warrant.
When he was appointed archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, Bishop Romero was considered a very “safe” choice. He had served as auxiliary bishop there for four years before his three years as bishop of Santiago de Maria.
Oscar’s father wanted him to be a carpenter—a trade for which he demonstrated some talent. Seminary classes in El Salvador preceded his studies at Rome’s Gregorian University and his ordination in 1942. After earning a doctorate in ascetical theology, he returned home and became a parish priest and later rector of an interdiocesan seminary.
Three weeks after his appointment as archbishop, Romero was shaken by the murder of his good friend Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, a vigorous defender of the rights of the poor. Five more priests were assassinated in the Archdiocese of San Salvador during Romero’s years as its shepherd.
When a military junta seized control of the national government in 1979, Archbishop Romero publicly criticized the U.S. government for backing the junta. His weekly radio sermons, broadcast throughout the country, were regarded by many as the most trustworthy source of news available.
Romero’s funeral was celebrated in the plaza outside the cathedral and drew an estimated 250,000 mourners.
His tomb in the cathedral crypt soon drew thousands of visitors each year. On February 3, 2015, Pope Francis authorized a decree recognizing Oscar Romero as a martyr for the faith. His beatification took place in San Salvador on May 23, 2015.
Archbishop Oscar Romero and many other Latin American martyrs for the faith were falsely accused of advocating a Marxist-inspired “theology of liberation.” Following Jesus always requires choices. Romero’s fiercest critics conveniently dismissed his choices as politically inspired. An incarnational faith must be expressed publicly.
Saint Turibius of Mogrovejo’s Story
Together with Rose of Lima, Turibius is the first known saint of the New World, serving the Lord in Peru, South America, for 26 years.
Born in Spain and educated for the law, he became so brilliant a scholar that he was made professor of law at the University of Salamanca and eventually became chief judge of the Inquisition at Granada. He succeeded too well. But he was not sharp enough a lawyer to prevent a surprising sequence of events.
When the archdiocese of Lima in Peru required a new leader, Turibius was chosen to fill the post: He was the one person with the strength of character and holiness of spirit to heal the scandals that had infected that area.
He cited all the canons that forbade giving laymen ecclesiastical dignities, but he was overruled. Turibius was ordained priest and bishop and sent to Peru, where he found colonialism at its worst. The Spanish conquerors were guilty of every sort of oppression of the native population. Abuses among the clergy were flagrant, and he devoted his energies and suffering to this area first.
He began the long and arduous visitation of an immense archdiocese, studying the language, staying two or three days in each place, often with neither bed nor food. Turibius confessed every morning to his chaplain, and celebrated Mass with intense fervor. Among those to whom he gave the Sacrament of Confirmation was the future Saint Rose of Lima, and possibly the future Saint Martin de Porres. After 1590, he had the help of another great missionary, Francis Solanus, now also a saint.
Though very poor his people were sensitive, dreading to accept public charity from others. Turibius solved the problem by helping them anonymously.
The Lord indeed writes straight with crooked lines. Against his will, and from the unlikely springboard of an Inquisition tribunal, this man became the Christlike shepherd of a poor and oppressed people. God gave him the gift of loving others as they needed it.
Saint Nicholas Owen’s Story