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All Souls' Day

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All Souls' Day
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Day of the Dead (1859).jpg
All Souls' Day by William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Also calledFeast of All Souls; Defuncts' Day; Day of Remembrance; Commemoration of all the faithful departed
Observed byCatholicism
Eastern Orthodoxy
Other Protestant denominations
Liturgical ColorViolet/purple or, where customary, black[1]
SignificanceFor the souls of all good who have passed away
ObservancesPrayer for the departed, visits to cemeteries, special meals
Date(West) 2 (or 3) November
(East) Several times during the year
Related toSaturday of Souls, Thursday of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Halloween, All Saints' Day, Samhain, Totensonntag, Blue Christmas

All Souls' Day, also known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed and the Day of the Dead, is a day of prayer and remembrance for the souls of those who have died, which is observed by some Christian denominations. All Souls' Day is often, although not exclusively, celebrated in Western Christianity; Saturday of Souls is a related tradition more frequently observed in Eastern Christianity. Practitioners of All Souls' Day traditions often remember deceased loved ones in various ways on the day.[2][3] Beliefs and practices associated with All Souls' Day vary widely among Christian churches and denominations.

In contemporary Western Christianity the annual celebration is held on 2 November, and is part of the season of Allhallowtide that includes All Saints' Day (1 November) and its eve, Halloween (31 October).[4] Prior to the standardization of Catholic observance on 2 November by St. Odlio of Cluny during the 10th century, many Catholic congregations celebrated All Souls Day on various dates during the Easter season as it is still observed in some Eastern Orthodox Church and associated Eastern Catholic Churches. Churches of the East Syriac Rite (Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Chaldean Catholic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Ancient Church of the East) commemorate all the faithful departed on the Friday before Lent.

Combined celebrations of All Saints and All Souls[edit]

In some countries, All Saints' Day is a public holiday, but All Souls' Day is not. Consequently, people visit graves and conduct other All Souls' Day practices on All Saints Day instead. Countries where All Souls' Day traditions are observed on All Saints' Day in this fashion include Belgium,[5] Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France,[6] Finland, Germany, Guatemala,[7] Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, the Philippines,[8] Poland, Portugal,[9] Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, and Sweden.

Popular customs[edit]

Many All Souls' Day traditions reflect popular notions associated with purgatory. For example, ringing bells for the dead was believed to comfort them in their cleansing, while the sharing of soul cakes with the poor helped to buy the dead a bit of respite from the suffering of purgatory. In the same way, lighting candles was meant to kindle a light for the dead souls languishing in the darkness. Out of this grew the traditions of "going souling" and the baking of special types of bread or cakes.[10][verification needed]


In Tirol, cakes are left for them on the table and the room kept warm for their comfort. In Brittany, people flock to the cemeteries at nightfall to kneel, bareheaded, at the graves of their loved ones, and to anoint the hollow of the tombstone with holy water or to pour libations of milk on it. At bedtime, the supper is left on the table for the souls.[11]

In Malta, on All Souls' Day (known in Maltese as Jum il-Mejtin), a traditional supper includes roasted pig, based on a custom of letting a pig loose on the streets with a bell around its neck, to be fed by the entire neighborhood and cooked on that day to feed the poor.[12]

In Linz, funereal musical pieces known as aequales were played from tower tops on All Souls' Day and the evening before.[13]


In the Philippines, Hallow mas is variously called "Undás", "Todos los Santos" (Spanish, "All Saints"), and sometimes "Araw ng mga Patay / Yumao" (Tagalog, "Day of the dead / those who have passed away"), which incorporates All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Filipinos traditionally observe this day by visiting the family dead to clean and repair their tombs. Offerings of prayers, flowers, candles,[8] and food. Chinese Filipinos additionally burn incense and kim. Many also spend the day and ensuing night holding reunions at the cemetery with feasts and merriment.

Religious observance by denomination[edit]

Byzantine (Greek) Catholic and the Eastern Orthodoxy[edit]

Kollyva offerings of boiled wheat blessed liturgically on Soul Saturday (Psychosabbaton).

Saturday of Souls (or Soul Saturday) is a day set aside for the commemoration of the dead within the liturgical year of the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches. Saturday is a traditional day of prayer for the dead, because Christ lay dead in the Tomb on Saturday.

These days are devoted to prayer for departed relatives and others among the faithful who would not be commemorated specifically as saints. The Divine Services on these days have special hymns added to them to commemorate the departed. There is oftena Panikhida (Memorial Service) either after the Divine Liturgy on Saturday morning or after Vespers on Friday evening, for which Koliva (a dish made of boiled wheatberries or rice and honey) is prepared and placed on the Panikhida table. After the Service, the priest blesses the Koliva. It is then eaten as a memorial by all present.


Another Memorial Day in the East, Radonitsa, does not fall on a Saturday, but on either Monday or Tuesday of the second week after Pascha (Easter). Radonitsa does not have special hymns for the dead at the Divine Services. Instead a Panikhida will follow the Divine Liturgy, and then all will bring paschal foods to the cemeteries to greet the departed with the joy of the Resurrection.

East Syriac tradition[edit]

East Syriac churches including the Syro Malabar Church and Chaldean Catholic Church commemorates the feast of departed faithful on the last Friday of Epiphany season (which means Friday just before start of Great Lent).[14] The season of Epiphany remembers the revelation of Christ to the world. Each Friday of Epiphany season, the church remembers important evangelistic figures.[15]

In East Syriac liturgy, the church remembers departed souls including saints on every Fridays throughout the year since the Christ was crucified and died on Friday.

Syro Malabar Church[edit]

In the Syro Malabar Church, the Friday before the parish festival is also celebrated as feast of departed faithful when the parish remembers the activities of forebearers who worked for the parish and faithful. They also request the intercession of all departed souls for the faithful celebration of parish festival.

Western Catholicism[edit]

All Souls' Day, painting by Jakub Schikaneder, 1888


In the Catholic Church, "the faithful" refers specifically to baptized Catholics; "all souls" commemorates the church penitent of souls in Purgatory, whereas "all saints" commemorates the church triumphant of saints in Heaven. In the liturgical books of the western Catholic Church (the Latin Church) it is called the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (Latin: Commemoratio omnium fidelium defunctorum), and is celebrated annually on 2 November. In the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, as well as in the Personal Ordinariates established by Benedict XVI for former Anglicans, it remains on 2 November if this date falls on a Sunday;[16][17] in the 1962–1969 form of the Roman Rite, use of which is still authorized, it is transferred to Monday, 3 November.[18] On this day in particular, Catholics pray for the dead.[19]

The Catholic Church teaches that the purification of the souls in Purgatory can be hastened by the actions of the faithful on earth. Its teaching is based also on the practice of prayer for the dead mentioned as far back as 2 Maccabees 12:42–46.[20] In the West there is ample evidence of the custom of praying for the dead in the inscriptions of the catacombs, with their constant prayers for the peace of the souls of the departed and in the early liturgies, which commonly contain commemorations of the dead. Tertullian, Cyprian and other early Western Fathers witness to the regular practice of praying for the dead among the early Christians.[21] The theological basis for the feast is the doctrine that the souls which, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past transgressions, are debarred from the Beatific Vision, and that the faithful on earth can help them by prayers, alms deeds and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass.[22] Because Purgatory is outside of time and space, it is not necessarily accurate to speak of a location or duration in Purgatory.


In the sixth century, it was customary in Benedictine monasteries to hold a commemoration of the deceased members at Whitsuntide. In the time of St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636) who lived in what is today Spain, the Monday after Pentecost was designated to remember the deceased. At the beginning of the ninth century, Abbot Eigil of Fulda set 17 December as commemoration of all deceased in part of what is today Germany.[23]

According to Widukind of Corvey (c. 975), there also existed a ceremony praying for the dead on 1 October in Saxony.[22] But it was the day after All Saints' Day that Saint Odilo of Cluny chose when in the 11th century he instituted for all the monasteries dependent on the Abbey of Cluny an annual commemoration of all the faithful departed, to be observed with alms, prayers, and sacrifices for the relief of the suffering souls in purgatory.[24] Odilo decreed that those requesting a Mass be offered for the departed should make an offering for the poor, thus linking almsgiving with fasting and prayer for the dead.

The 2 November date and customs spread from the Cluniac monasteries to other Benedictine monasteries and thence to the Western Church in general.[25] The Diocese of Liège was the first diocese to adopt the practice under Bishop Notger (d. 1008).[22] 2 November was adopted in Italy and Rome in the thirteenth century.[23]

In the 15th century the Dominicans instituted a custom of each priest offering three Masses on the Feast of All Souls. During World War I, given the great number of war dead and the many destroyed churches where mass could no longer be said, Pope Benedict XV, granted all priests the privilege of offering three Masses on All Souls Day,[26] a permission that still stands.

Liturgical practice[edit]

In the Roman Rite as revised in 1969, if 2 November falls on a Sunday, the Mass is of All Souls, but the Liturgy of the Hours is that of the Sunday. However, public celebration of Lauds and Vespers of the Dead with the people participating is permitted. While celebration of a Sunday, a solemnity or a feast of the Lord replacing a Sunday begins on the previous evening with Vespers and perhaps evening Mass, the general norms do not allow for anticipation on Saturday evening of the liturgy of All Souls' Day falling on a Sunday, and so they suggest that the formula of the Mass on that Saturday evening is that of the solemnity of All Saints, which outranks the Sunday of Ordinary Time whose Mass would be celebrated on that evening.[25][27] However, in 2014, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops decided that for that year the Saturday evening (Sunday vigil) Mass in that country was to be that of All Souls; in countries such as Italy the situation was less clear.[28]

In countries where All Saints' Day is not a holy day of obligation attendance at an evening Mass of All Saints on Saturday 1 November satisfies the Sunday obligation.[25] In England and Wales, where holy days of obligation that fall on a Saturday are transferred to the following day, if 2 November is a Sunday, the solemnity of All Saints is transferred to that date, and All Souls Day is transferred to 3 November.[28] In pre-1970 forms of the Roman Rite, still observed by some, if All Souls Day falls on a Sunday, it is always transferred to 3 November.

In Divine Worship: The Missal the minor propers (Introit, Gradual, Tract, Sequence, Offertory, and Communion) are those used for Renaissance and Classical musical requiem settings, including the Dies Irae. This permits the performance of traditional requiem settings in the context of the Divine Worship Form of the Roman Rite on All Souls Day as well as at funerals, votive celebrations of all faithful departed, and anniversaries of deaths.[29]

All Souls' indulgence[edit]

According to The Enchiridion of Indulgences, An indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful, who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray for the departed. The indulgence is plenary, under the usual conditions, each day from the first to the eighth of November; a partial indulgence is granted on any other days of the year.[30]

"Visit to a Church or Oratory on All Souls Day. PLENARY INDULGENCE. A plenary indulgence, applicable ONLY to the souls in purgatory, may be obtained by those who, on All Souls Day, piously visit a church, public oratory, or -for those entitled to use it, a semi public oratory. It may be acquired either on the day designated as All Souls Day or, with the consent of the bishop, on the preceding or following Sunday or the feast of All Saints. On visiting the church or oratory it is required that one Our Father and the Creed be recited."[31]:N.15[30]

Lutheran Churches[edit]

A graveyard outside a Lutheran church in the Swedish city of Röke during Allhallowtide

Among continental Protestants its tradition has been more tenaciously maintained. During Luther's lifetime, All Souls' Day was widely observed in Saxony although the Roman Catholic meaning of the day was discarded;[11] ecclesiastically in the Lutheran Church, the day was merged with, and is often seen as an extension of All Saints' Day,[32] with many Lutherans still visiting and decorating graves on all the days of Allhallowtide, including All Souls' Day.[33] Just as it is the custom of French people, of all ranks and creeds, to decorate the graves of their dead on the jour des morts, so German,[11] Polish and Hungarian people stream to the graveyards once a year with offerings of flowers and special grave lights. Among Czech people the custom of visiting and tidying graves of relatives on the day is quite common. In 1816, Prussia introduced a new date for the remembrance of the Dead among its Lutheran citizens: Totensonntag, the last Sunday before Advent. This custom was later also adopted by the non-Prussian Lutherans in Germany, but it has not spread much beyond the Protestant areas of Germany.

Anglican Communion[edit]

All Souls Anglican Church in the Diocese of Sydney, a parish dedicated to All Souls

In the Church of England it is called The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed and is an optional celebration; Anglicans view All Souls' Day as an extension of the observance of All Saints' Day and it serves to "remember those who have died", in connection with the theological doctrines of the resurrection of the body and the Communion of Saints.[34][35]

In the Anglican Communion, All Souls' Day is known liturgically as the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, and is an optional observance seen as "an extension of All Saints' Day", the latter of which marks the second day of Allhallowtide.[35][36] Historically and at present, several Anglican churches are dedicated to All Souls. During the English Reformation, the observance of All Souls' Day lapsed, although a new Anglican theological understanding of the day has "led to a widespread acceptance of this commemoration among Anglicans".[37] Patricia Bays, with regard to the Anglican view of All Souls' Day, wrote that:[34]

All Souls Day (November 2) is a time when we particularly remember those who have died. The prayers appointed for that day remind us that we are joined with the Communion of Saints, that great group of Christians who have finished their earthly life and with who we share the hope of resurrection from the dead.[34]

As such, Anglican parishes "now commemorate all the faithful departed in the context of the All Saints' Day celebration", in keeping with this fresh perspective.[38] Contributing to the revival was the need "to help Anglicans mourn the deaths of millions of soldiers in World War I".[39] Members of the Guild of All Souls, an Anglican devotional society founded in 1873, "are encouraged to pray for the dying and the dead, to participate in a requiem of All Souls' Day and say a Litany of the Faithful Departed at least once a month".[40]

At the Reformation the celebration of All Souls' Day was fused with All Saints' Day in the Church of England[41] or, in the judgement of some, it was "deservedly abrogated".[42] It was reinstated in certain parishes in connection with the Oxford Movement of the 19th century[41] and is acknowledged in United States Anglicanism in the Holy Women, Holy Men calendar[41] and in the Church of England with the 1980 Alternative Service Book. It features in Common Worship as a Lesser Festival called "Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls' Day)".

Methodist Churches[edit]

In the Methodist Church, saints refer to all Christians and therefore, on All Saint's Day, the Church Universal, as well as the deceased members of a local congregation are honoured and remembered.[43][44] In Methodist congregations that celebrate the liturgy on All Souls Day, the observance, as with Anglicanism and Lutheranism, is viewed as an extension of All Saints' Day and as such, Methodists "remember our loved ones who had died" in their observance of this feast.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 346
  2. ^ Cross, Frank Leslie; Livingstone, Elizabeth A. (2005). The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford University Press. p. 42. ISBN 9780192802903. All Souls' Day. The commemoration of the souls of the faithful departed on 2 Nov., the day following All Saints' Day.
  3. ^ Ball, Ann (2003). Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. p. 33. ISBN 9780879739102. All Souls' Day: The annual commemoration of all the faithful departed, 2 November.
  4. ^ Bannatyne, Lesley Pratt (1 August 1998). Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History. Pelican Publishing. p. 12. ISBN 1565543467. Retrieved 1 November 2012. The Church brought its saints' celebrations to every new land it conquered. The celebrations on the eve of All Saints, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (the three were referred to as Hallowmas) spread throughout Europe. From the British Isles to France to Poland and Italy, the religious remembrance of the ancestral dead became an annual celebration of major importance.
  5. ^ "All Saints' Day honors the deceased", USAG Benelux Public Affairs, November 1, 2017
  6. ^ "The Flower of Death", Couleur Nature, Paris, 25 July 2011
  7. ^ Mijangos, Nelo. "All Saints Day in Guatemala", Revue, 2 November 2012
  8. ^ a b "All Saints Day around the world", Guardian Weekly, 1 November 2010
  9. ^ "National holiday: November 1st is All Saints Day – Portugal", Portuguese American Journal, 1 November 2011
  10. ^ Medieval Histories 2012: 11:1
  11. ^ a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "All Souls' Day". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  12. ^ "Maltese traditions to mark All Souls Day at the Inquisitor's Palace". Times of Malta.
  13. ^ From sleevenotes, Triton Trombone Quartet: "German Trombone Music"; BIS-CD-644
  14. ^ "Commemoration of the Departed Faithful". Nasrani Foundation.
  15. ^ "Syro Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2016" (PDF).
  16. ^ Roman Missal, "The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed", and "Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar", 59
  17. ^ Divine Worship: The Missal, "Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls)", p.871
  18. ^ Missale Romanum 1962, Rubricæ generales, "De dierum liturgicorum occurentia accidentali eorumque translatione", 96b
  19. ^ Bregman, Lucy (2010). Religion, Death, and Dying. ABC-CLIO. p. 45. ISBN 9780313351808. The church also determined to observe 2 November as All Souls' Day, when Catholics pray for the souls of all who had died.
  20. ^ "Catechism of the Catholic Church – IntraText".
  21. ^ Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article "dead, prayer for the"
  22. ^ a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1907). "All Souls' Day". Catholic Encyclopedia. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  23. ^ a b New Catholic Encyclopedia (Second ed.). 2003. pp. 290–291. ISBN 0-7876-4004-2.
  24. ^ "Butler's Lives of the Saints – Saint Odilo, or Olon, Sixth Abbot of Cluni". 20 January 2013.
  25. ^ a b c "Edward McNamara, "All Souls' Commemoration"". ZENIT – The World Seen From Rome. 3 December 2013. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  26. ^ User, Super. "All Saints and All Souls".
  27. ^ Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, "Table of Liturgical Days"]
  28. ^ a b "Edward McNamara, "All Souls' Day and the Vigil Mass"". ZENIT – The World Seen From Rome. 29 October 2014. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  29. ^ Divine Worship: The Missal, pp.871–875 & pp.1024–1032
  30. ^ a b Online, Catholic. "The Enchiridion of Indulgences – Prayers". Catholic Online.
  31. ^ "Enchiridion Indulgentiarum" (in Latin) (16 iulii 1999 – Quarta editio ed.). Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 1999. Archived from the original on 14 January 2010.
  32. ^ Isaacs, Linda A. (6 November 2011). St. Paul's Lutheran Church of Wurtemburg. Evangelical Lutheran Conference & Ministerium of North America. In fact, the Lutheran tradition lumps "All Saints Day" and "All Souls Day" together because we believe that we are all saints through our faith!
  33. ^ Venbrux, Eric; Quartier, Thomas; Venhorst, Claudia; Mathijssen, Brenda (12 January 2013). Changing European Death Ways. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 183. ISBN 9783643900678. The way in which graveyards in Denmark are looked after suggests that they are deemed important. ... they are in the hands of the Lutheran church ... Furthermore, special attention to the graves is paid by decorating them in the month of Christmas, at Easter and on All Souls' day. Aagedal (2010) writes that folk-church religiosity in Norway is best understood by looking at the burning of candles on graves.
  34. ^ a b c Bays, Patricia; Hancock, Carol L. (2012). This Anglican Church of Ours. Wood Lake Publishing Inc. p. 128. ISBN 9781770644397.
  35. ^ a b Armentrout, Donald S.; Slocum, Robert Boak (1999). An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church. Church Publishing, Inc. p. 7. ISBN 0898692113. Retrieved 1 November 2012. All Faithful Departed, Commemoration of. This optional observance is an extension of All Saints' Day. While All Saints' is to remember all the saints, popular piety felt the need to distinguish between outstanding saints and those who are unknown in the wider fellowship of the church, especially family members and friends. It is also known as All Souls' Day. Many churches now commemorate all the faithful departed in the context of the All Saints' Day celebration."
  36. ^ Dickison, Scott (22 October 2014). "Recovering Allhallowtide". Baptist News Global. Retrieved 20 September 2015. Within the greater tradition of the church, All Hallows' Eve and All Hallows'/Saints' Day are actually the first two days of "Allhallowtide", with "All Souls' Day" being the final holiday of this three-day "season".
  37. ^ Michno, Dennis G. (1 July 1998). A Priest's Handbook: The Ceremonies of the Church, Third Edition. Church Publishing, Inc. p. 160. ISBN 9780819225047. Though the observance of this day was abolished at the Reformation because of abuses connected with Masses for the dead, a renewed understanding of its meaning has led to a widespread acceptance of this commemoration among Anglicans, and to its inclusion as an optional observance in the calendar of the Episcopal Church.
  38. ^ Armentrout, Don S. (1 January 2000). An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church. Church Publishing, Inc. p. 7. ISBN 9780898697018. Many churches now commemorate all the faithful departed in the context of the All Saints' Day celebration.
  39. ^ English, June (2004). Anglican Young People's Dictionary. Church Publishing, Inc. p. 4. ISBN 9780819219855.
  40. ^ Armentrout, Donald S.; Slocum, Robert Boak (1 January 2000). An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church. Church Publishing, Inc. p. 232. ISBN 9780898692112.
  41. ^ a b c "The Episcopal Church, "All Saints' Day/All Faithful Departed"" (PDF).
  42. ^ "The Book of Common Prayer ... With Notes ... by the Right Rev. Richard Mant ... Sixth Edition". Francis & John Rivington. 5 July 1850.
  43. ^ Laura Huff Hileman (2003). "What is All Saint's Day?". The Upper Room (United Methodist Church). Archived from the original on 26 January 2012. Retrieved 31 October 2011. Saints are just people who are trying to listen to God's word and live God's call. This is "the communion of saints" that we speak of in the Apostle's Creed – that fellowship of believers that reaches beyond time and place, even beyond death. Remembering the saints who have helped extend and enliven God's kingdom is what All Saints Day is about.
  44. ^ The Rev. J. Richard Peck (2011). "Do United Methodists believe in saints?". The United Methodist Church. Archived from the original on 18 July 2012. Retrieved 31 October 2011. We also recognize and celebrate All Saints' Day (1 Nov.) and "all the saints who from their labors rest". United Methodists call people "saints" because they exemplified the Christian life. In this sense, every Christian can be considered a saint.
  45. ^ Sherwood, Colin. "All Souls Day Service". St Andrew`s Methodist Church. Methodist Church of Great Britain. Retrieved 21 September 2015. During our All Souls Day Service on 2nd. November, as we remembered our loved ones who had died, some recently and other longer ago, candles were lit in memory of them and placed on a cairn built in front of the pulpit.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]