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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

In some Christian denominations, All Souls' Day or the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, that is, of the souls of all Christians who have died, follows All Saints' Day. Observing Christians typically remember deceased relatives on the day.[2][3] In Western Christianity the annual celebration is held on 2 November and is associated with the season of Allhallowtide, including All Saints' Day (1 November) and its vigil, Halloween (31 October).[4] 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;[5][6] in the 1962−1969 form of the Roman Rite, use of which is still authorized, it is transferred to Monday, 3 November.[7] On this day in particular, Catholics pray for the dead.[8] In the Church of England it is called The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls' Day) 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.[9][10] In the Eastern Orthodox Church and the associated Eastern Catholic Churches, it is celebrated several times during the year and is not associated with the month of November.

Beliefs and practices associated with All Souls' Day vary widely among Christian churches and denominations.

Observance by denomination[edit]

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

Among Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine (Greek) Catholics, there are several All Souls' Days during the year. Most of these fall on Saturday, since Jesus lay in the Tomb on Holy Saturday. They occur on the following occasions:

In all of the Orthodox Church there is a commemoration of the dead on the Saturday before the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel—8 November, instead of the Demetrius Soul Saturday.

In the Serbian Orthodox Church there is also a commemoration of the dead on the Saturday closest to the Conception of St. John the Baptist23 September.[citation needed]

In Slavic and Greek Churches, all of the Lenten Soul Saturdays are typically observed. In some of the Churches of the Eastern Mediterranean, Meatfare Saturday, Radonitsa and the Saturday before Pentecost are typically observed.[citation needed]

In addition to the Sundays mentioned above, Saturdays throughout the year are days for general commemoration of all saints, and special hymns to all saints are chanted from the Octoechos, unless some greater feast or saint's commemoration occurs.[citation needed]

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(which means Friday just before start of Great Lent).[11] The season of Epiphany remembers the revelation of Christ to the world. And on each Fridays of season of Epiphany the church remembers some important figures in the evangelism.[12]

Apart from this In Syro Malabar Church Friday before the parish festival is also celebrated as feast of departed faithful. Here the parish remembers the activities of forefathers who worked for the parish and faithful. They also request the intercession of all departed souls for the faithful celebration of parish festival.

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.

Roman Catholicism[edit]

All Souls' Day, painting by Jakub Schikaneder, 1888


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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] 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. According to Widukind of Corvey (c. 975), there existed a time-honoured ceremony of praying to the dead on 1 October in Saxony.[15] 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.[16] 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. From there the 2 November custom spread to other Benedictine monasteries and thence to the Western Church in general.[17] The Diocese of Liège was the first diocese to adopt the practice under Bishop Notger (d. 1008).[15]

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,[18] a permission that still stands.

Known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, in some countries the celebration is known as the "Day of the Dead".

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.[17][19] 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.[20]

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.[17] 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.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22]

"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."[23]:N.15[22]

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;[24] ecclesiastically in the Lutheran Church, the day was merged with, and is often seen as an extension of All Saints' Day,[25] with many Lutherans still visiting and decorating graves on all the days of Allhallowtide, including All Souls' Day.[26] 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,[24] 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 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.[10][27] 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".[28] Patricia Bays, with regard to the Anglican view of All Souls' Day, wrote that:[9]

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.[9]

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.[29] Contributing to the revival was the need "to help Anglicans mourn the deaths of millions of soldiers in World War I".[30] 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".[31]

At the Reformation the celebration of All Souls' Day was fused with All Saints' Day in the Church of England[32] or, in the judgement of some, it was "deservedly abrogated".[33] It was reinstated in certain parishes in connection with the Oxford Movement of the 19th century[32] and is acknowledged in United States Anglicanism in the Holy Women, Holy Men calendar[32] 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.[34][35] 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.[36]

Origins, practices and purposes[edit]

Some believe that the origins of All Souls' Day in European folklore and folk belief are related to customs of ancestor veneration[37] practiced worldwide, through events such as, in India Pitru Paksha, the Chinese Ghost Festival, the Japanese Bon Festival. The Roman custom was that of the Lemuria.[38]

The formal commemoration of the saints and martyrs (All Saints' Day) existed in the early Christian church since its legalization, and alongside that developed a day for commemoration of all the dead (All Souls' Day). The modern date of All Souls' Day was first popularized in the early eleventh century after Abbot Odilo established it as a day for the monks of Cluny and associated monasteries to pray for the souls in purgatory.[39]

Many of these European traditions reflect the dogma of purgatory. For example, ringing bells for the dead was believed to comfort them in their cleansing there, 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.[40]

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.[24]

In Malta, a traditional All Souls supper includes roasted pig, based on an All Souls’ Day custom where the Maltese feasted on a pig let loose on the streets with a bell hanging around its neck. Entire neighborhoods would feed it, and on the day cook it to feed the poor.[41]

In Linz, funereal musical pieces known as aequales were played from tower tops on All Soul's Day and the evening before.[42]

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, November 2.
  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. ^ Roman Missal, "The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed", and "Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar", 59
  6. ^ Divine Worship: The Missal, "Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls)", p.871
  7. ^ Missale Romanum 1962, Rubricæ generales, "De dierum liturgicorum occurentia accidentali eorumque translatione", 96b
  8. ^ Bregman, Lucy (2010). Religion, Death, and Dying. ABC-CLIO. p. 45. ISBN 9780313351808. The church also determined to observe November 2 as All Souls' Day, when Catholics pray for the souls of all who had died.
  9. ^ a b c Bays, Patricia; Hancock, Carol L. (2012). This Anglican Church of Ours. Wood Lake Publishing Inc. p. 128. ISBN 9781770644397.
  10. ^ 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."
  11. ^ "Commemoration of the Departed Faithful". Nasrani Foundation.
  12. ^ "Syro Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2016" (PDF).
  13. ^ "Catechism of the Catholic Church - IntraText".
  14. ^ Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article "dead, prayer for the"
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Butler's Lives of the Saints – Saint Odilo, or Olon, Sixth Abbot of Cluni". 20 January 2013.
  17. ^ a b c "Edward McNamara, "All Souls' Commemoration"". ZENIT - The World Seen From Rome. 3 December 2013. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  18. ^ User, Super. "All Saints and All Souls".
  19. ^ Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, "Table of Liturgical Days"]
  20. ^ a b "Edward McNamara, "All Souls' Day and the Vigil Mass"". ZENIT - The World Seen From Rome. 29 October 2014. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  21. ^ Divine Worship: The Missal, pp.871-875 & pp.1024-1032
  22. ^ a b Online, Catholic. "The Enchiridion of Indulgences - Prayers". Catholic Online.
  23. ^ "Enchiridion Indulgentiarum" (in Latin) (16 iulii 1999 - Quarta editio ed.). Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 1999. Archived from the original on 14 January 2010.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ 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!
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ 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".
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ English, June (2004). Anglican Young People's Dictionary. Church Publishing, Inc. p. 4. ISBN 9780819219855.
  31. ^ Armentrout, Donald S.; Slocum, Robert Boak (1 January 2000). An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church. Church Publishing, Inc. p. 232. ISBN 9780898692112.
  32. ^ a b c "The Episcopal Church, "All Saints' Day/All Faithful Departed"" (PDF).
  33. ^ "The Book of Common Prayer ... With Notes ... by the Right Rev. Richard Mant ... Sixth Edition". Francis & John Rivington. 5 July 1850 – via Google Books.
  34. ^ 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.
  35. ^ 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 (Nov. 1) 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.
  36. ^ 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.
  37. ^ Kristin Norget (2006). Days of Death, Days of Life: Ritual in the Popular Culture of Oaxaca. Columbia University Press. pp. 193–. ISBN 978-0-231-13689-1. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  38. ^ Ovid. Fasti. p. V 419ff.
  39. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLöffler, Klemens (1911). "St. Odilo" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 11. New York: Robert Appleton.
  40. ^ Medieval Histories 2012: 11:1
  41. ^ "Maltese traditions to mark All Souls Day at the Inquisitor's Palace". Times of Malta.
  42. ^ From sleevenotes, Triton Trombone Quartet: "German Trombone Music"; BIS-CD-644

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]