By Colleen Pressprich
Coming quickly on the heels of All Saints' Day is another wonderful feast of the Church: All Souls' Day celebrated on November 2nd.
On All Souls' Day, the Church celebrates the souls of the faithful departed. It is a day of prayer and remembrance, and one when we pray especially for the souls in purgatory. Purgatory, coming from the Latin word “to purge”, is where souls who die in a state of grace, but who aren’t quite ready for Heaven due to the consequences of sin, go. Unlike Hell, Purgatory is a temporary state. You stay there until you have reached the holiness necessary to enter Heaven. But, the souls in Purgatory cannot pray for themselves, they rely on us here on earth to pray for them.
Like All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day has a long history within the Church and many beautiful traditions associated with it. Here are a few ways to celebrate this beautiful feast.
Visit the graves of your loved ones.
If you’re blessed enough to live near where your family members are buried or interred, All Souls' Day is a wonderful day to visit their graves. Bring some flowers, say a prayer, and perhaps schedule your regular gravesite clean-up for that day as you spend time speaking with and praying for people you love.
We don’t live near where our loved ones are buried but have gotten into the tradition of visiting a local cemetery on All Souls' Day. The children each pick a grave to “adopt” and we pray for that person as though they were family.
Sign the Book of the Names of the Dead at your parish.
It is a tradition in November for Catholic parishes to place a book in their entrance, gathering space, or other suitable location so that parishioners and visitors may record the names of their loved ones who have passed away. This book is displayed in a place of honor, allowing other people to read the names and pray for the repose of souls. Those listed in the book are often offered up in prayer at masses throughout November and specifically on All Souls' Day.
If you have loved ones who have passed away recently (or even not so recently!), consider stopping by your parish and adding their names.
Gain an indulgence for a soul in Purgatory.
Souls in Purgatory cannot pray for themselves as they undergo the purification they need to reach Heaven. This means that they are reliant on our prayers to help speed their way. During the first week of November, Catholics can earn a plenary indulgence (meaning these tasks take away the entirety of a soul’s Purgatory time) for a soul in Purgatory by attending mass, going to confession, and praying for the faithful departed at a cemetery.
We like this tradition in our family because, in addition to helping the souls of Purgatory, it reminds us to go to confession!
Learn about another culture.
Many cultures have traditions that surround All Souls' Day and give it added meaning. For example, in Mexico, the Day of the Dead is celebrated by decorating altars for departed family members and keeping vigil. This can be a wonderful opportunity to introduce your kids to important traditions from your own heritage or learn about another culture.
All Souls' Day is not a holy day of obligation, but it is a wonderful day to attend mass. As a daily mass, you’ll probably find it quieter and shorter than your normal Sunday mass, which can be easier for families with young children. Not only does it offer the opportunity to pray for and remember loved ones, but it will also help you fulfill a requirement of your indulgence!
I hope these ideas help you to celebrate All Souls' Day as a family and lean further into your Catholic heritage!
Colleen Pressprich is the author of Marian Consecration for Families with Young Children and The Women Doctors of the Church. She is a homeschooling mom of five and lives with her family in Michigan. You can read more of her writing at elevatortoheaven.com.