Souls' Day: Reverence to departed

Commemorated on November 2, this day is an opportunity to pray for the souls of baptized Christians who are believed to be in purgatory

LUIZA LUIS | NOVEMBER 02, 2021, 12:21 AM IST
Souls' Day: Reverence to departed

In Roman Catholicism, All Souls' Day is a day for prayer and remembrance of all the faithful departed and the Day of the Dead. Commemorated on November 2, the day is an opportunity to pray for the souls of baptized Christians who are believed to be in purgatory; who, it is understood, cannot immediately enter Heaven but can be helped by the faithful on earth, to do their purification with prayer, alms, fasting, sacrifices and Requiem masses, so that they may soon see the vision of God in Heaven. This day is also celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Churches and a few other denominations of Christianity. 

Within the Christian tradition, the French monks designated a specific day for remembering and praying for those in purgatory in 998 AD. This started as a local feast but gradually spread throughout the Catholic Church thereafter. According to Catholic belief, the soul of a person who dies can go to one of three places. The first is heaven, where a person who dies in a state of perfect grace and communion with God goes. The second is hell, where those who die in a state of mortal sin are naturally condemned by their choice. The intermediate option is purgatory, which is thought to be where most people, free of mortal sin, but still in a state of lesser (venial) sin, must go.

Purgatory is necessary so that souls can be cleansed and perfected before they enter Heaven. There is a scriptural basis for this belief. The primary reference is in 2 Maccabees, 12:42-46: "Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out...Thus made atonement for the dead that they might be free from sin." Additional references are found in Zechariah, Sirach, and the Gospel of Matthew. 

In Goa, the church bells tolled sporadically from the noon of All Saints Day, i.e. on November 1, in a rhythm: tau-----tau-tau, reminding the parishioners to pray for the dead. This would continue till noon of the All Souls Day. The faithful would congregate at the church/chapel/home where they would be reciting prayers for the dead. The faithful who had their close family members and relatives buried in the cemetery would then individually pray at the respective graves/niche. The grave/niche would be beautifully decorated with flowers and lit with candles. Relatives and family members make it a point to come from far off places to pay homage to their near-and-dear ones at the cemetery where they are buried. 

Late in the evening, I remember in my childhood, we had to say at least three rosaries in memory of our ancestors, for the wandering souls and those in the purgatory waiting for redemption. The last two were the ones who needed the prayers more than the others. The next day in the morning we had to go for mass and participate in at least three masses to seek sanctification for the dead.  

It is a Goan tradition that the souls should be appeased through prayers and giving them the food of their liking. Special food like godshem is prepared. In some villages, festive food including sannas, sorpotel, pumpkin mergulho, and beef assado are prepared. Following the tradition, the food is served on a banana leaf and kept out in the open on the night of November 1 for the hungry to satiate them. A viddi (tobacco wrapped with dried leaf) and an alcoholic drink were also kept. This meal is for the dead family member, who they believe comes home on this day. In case there is a recent death in the family, a poor person is fed on his behalf. The godshem is replaced by onna, which would contain gram dal. 

We all are the eternal Souls because it is the breath of God into our nostrils that give us life. Let us pray for all the souls including those who do not have anyone to pray for them. While today, the traditions are of least importance, the church emphasizes the need to spend time in prayer by attending and offering as many masses for the dead as possible and reciting rosaries. Let us pray for the redemption of the souls of the needy, especially those who died of Covid. 

(Luiza Luis is a teacher grade-I, a catechist at Taleigao’s St Michael Church, and a freelance writer)

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