From the Martyrology for 1 November:
Festivitas omnium Sanctorum, quam in honorem beatae Dei Genitricis Virginis Mariae et sanctorum Martyrum Bonifatius Papa Quartus, cum templum Pantheon tertio Idus Maji dedicasset, celebrem et generalem instituit agi quotannis in urbe Roma. Sed et Gregorius item Quartus postmodum decrevit, eamdem festivitatem, quae variis modis jam in diversis Ecclesiis celebrabatur, in honorem omnium Sanctorum solemniter hac die ab universa Ecclesia perpetuo observari.
The festival of all Saints, which Pope Boniface IV, having dedicated the Pantheon on 13 May in honor of the Blessed Mother of God the Virgin Mary and of all the Saints, instituted annually for the city of Rome. Gregory IV later decreed that this festival in honor of all the Saints, celebrated in various ways among the many Churches, be solemnly observed perpetually on this day [1 November].
The Roman church building in the photograph above is called Sancta Maria ad Martyres, or, vulgo dicto, Santa Maria Rotonda. To most people, it is one of Rome’s most recognizable sights, a popular tourist attraction called the Pantheon. Originally built to honor all the Roman gods, it was given to Pope St. Boniface IV by the emperor Phocas. “Exorcising” the memory of the pagan deities, Boniface consecrated the temple into a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in memory of the innumerable Roman martyrs who gave their lives under the oppressive ancient cult, refusing to render unto Caesar what belonged to God. This consecration, which took place on 13 May 609, became the basis for a yearly feast in honor not only of the martyrs but of all the saints.
Due to various processes of inculturation, feasts for the saints occurred at different dates across Western Christendom. Formerly Celtic lands (Northern Britain, Ireland, Normandy) observed the feast on 20 April, while Germanic lands (including Southern England and the Frankish kingdom) celebrated it on 1 November. Provinces under Rome’s direct influence (Italy, North Africa) observed the Roman date. The popular theory that the celebration of Halloween (All Hallows Eve, the vigil of All Saints) has a direct pagan root in Samhain, the Celtic festival of the dead (which fell on 1 November) is questionable, due to the fact that the 1 November date for All Saints is Germanic, not Celtic in origin; furthermore, we know from the writings of Irish bishop and chronicler Oengus of Tallaght that the Irish (a Celtic people) observed All Saints on 20 April.
Under Charlemagne, the Frankish kingdom became the foremost power in Western Europe, and thus exercised remarkable cultural influence even in matters ecclesiastic. One such manifestation of influence concerns the imposition of a universal feast of All Saints. On this day in 835, at the insistence Pope Gregory III, Louis the Pious (son of Charlemagne) decreed that 1 November be established as All Saints Day. On the same day, the Pope dedicated an oratory in St. Peter’s in memoriam omnium beatorum apostolorum et sanctorum, martyrum, et confessorum. In an instance characteristic of the Carolingian era, Frankish practice demonstrated its powerful effect on the Roman Church.
Back to Santa Maria ad Martyres– even today, the Pantheon is a fully functioning Catholic parish, with daily Masses and confessions. This church, like so many others in Rome, stands as an eloquent reminder of the victory of Christ and his Church– that a temple once consecrated to the cult of brute gods is now a place for worship of the Most High God; that a place meant to honor cynical deities now honors the brave men and women who died for the Church. In a tragic turn of supreme irony, the feast most closely associated with this church has, in modern times, become associated with indulgence, drunken revelry, demonic hedonism, and all types of sinful behavior– a far cry from the modesty, humility, and courage of the martyrs. Let Catholics reclaim for Halloween its original purpose as the Vigil of All Saints, that they may observe it with sober vigilance, so as to worthily celebrate the Feast itself with joyful propriety and gladness.
All Souls’ Day (2 November)
Like All Saints’ Day, a singular feast for the faithful departed did not exist in the earliest centuries. This was likely due to the fact that (since praying for the dead is an ancient custom inherited from the Jews) Christians prayed for the dead all the time, especially at the Eucharist. In the Roman Canon, the most ancient of our Eucharistic Prayers in the Western Church, we find mention of those qui nos praecesserunt cum signo fidei et dormiunt in somno pacis, asking for them and pro omnibus in Christo quiescentibus, locum refriferii, lucis, et pacis. Before the Roman Canon was crystallized into its final form, however, various names of the faithful departed were inserted into the diptychs, which the priest or bishop read as he offered the Eucharist.
Dates for such commemorations were as diverse as the diptychs of the early churches. By the tenth century, 1 October had been established in German lands, while in Spain, the memorial was held on or around Pentecost since the seventh century. The Ambrosian Rite, prior to the Romanizing effects of Charles Borromeo and the Council of Trent, held the feast on 16 October.
The Benedictine Abbey of Cluny, founded in 910, would become the most powerful and influential Benedictine abbey, surpassing even Subiaco and Monte Cassino, due to the continual tumult in Italy. From her cloisters, she sent missionaries across Europe to found new abbeys dependent upon Cluny as the mother-house. Her second abbot, St. Odo (died 942), imposed on the Cluniac family of abbeys a memorial of the faithful departed on 2 November, in order to link this commemoration with the Feast of All Saints. Because the Cluniac abbeys were so diffused throughout the West, they influenced many local celebrations of All Souls, and thus the Tridentine Reform under Pope St. Pius V adopted the Benedictine commemoration on 2 November as a date for the universal feast.
All Souls Day is a feast that directly addresses what Catholic tradition calls “the four last things”– judgment, heaven, hell, and purgatory. One cannot consider any of the four without the others.
1. Judgment. The Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds both clearly state: …venturus est [cum gloria] iudicare vivos et mortuos. The Holy Scriptures and Christ himself speak, parabolically and directly, that the Son will pass judgment on all souls and on every age. The Requiem Mass in the Extraordinary Form, which retains the marvelous medieval Dies Irae sequence, speaks of that “day of wrath” in which every man will stand before Christ, the just judge, at the end of time:
Quantus tremor est futurus
quando Judex est venturus
cuncta stricte discussurus.
How much fear shall there be
when the judge will have come
to strictly discern all things
Judgment implies justice, and justice implies a correct moral order. That correct moral order consists of the precepts of divine law, given to us by Christ. Furthermore, because of free will, people can choose to act according to goodness or according to evil, a distinction defined by this same correct moral order. Since this judgment will occur at the end of time, the verdicts will be eternal. Based on this judgment, souls will ultimately go to either heaven or hell. Purgatory, a state of purification in preparation for heaven, will be discussed later.
2. Heaven. This is the state of perfect eternal happiness, in which the soul exists in perfect conformity with the divine love of God. Those who, to the best of their human limits, live in conformity to the law of God on earth, shall live eternally with him in heaven.
3. Hell. Hell is the state of eternal separation from the divine love of God, and according to justice, this state must exist. When Dante, in the Inferno is shown the gates of hell, he sees written:
Per me si va ne la città dolente,
per me si va ne l’etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.
Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore:
fecemi la divina podestate,
la somma sapienza e ‘l primo amore.
Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create
se non etterne, e io etterno duro.
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’entrate.
Through me, one enters the city of grief,
Through me, one enters eternal pain,
Through me, one goes to the lost people.
Justice moved my high maker:
the divine power, the highest wisdom,
and the first love created me
There were no created things before me,
nothing uneternal, and I last forever.
Abandon all hope, all you who enter.
The non-existence of hell would ultimately obliterate the moral order on earth while nullifying the concept of heaven. A non-hell would in fact signify a victory of sin, not of mercy, for it means that gravely impenitent sinners would have no final consequence past the threshold of death. Yet God does not ultimately place sinners in hell; rather, our faith acknowledges that there will always be some who, in their freedom, deliberately choose to cut themselves off from God. The gates of hell are locked from within, not without. In the ineffable design of the Trinity (the divine power, the highest wisdom, and the first love), it is right and just that, if there should be an eternal reward for the just, so too should there be an eternal punishment for the sinful.
4. Purgatory. Most people who die in a state of grace, I would contend, still do not have perfect love of God. Though they have sincerely confessed their sins and have fallen asleep in Christ, they may not have adequately prepared themselves for the fullness of heavenly glory. Purgatory is the state of purification for those just souls awaiting entrance into the celestial abode.
Praying for the dead implies the existence of an intermediary state between earthly life and heavenly life. Absent such an intermediary state, prayer for the dead would be useless. Yet we know from Scripture and the liturgical tradition that praying for the dead is indeed a just act. Indeed, in the period when Jewish consciousness gradually came to contemplate the resurrection of the dead with increasing frequency, we find this text.
Judas [Maccabee] rallied his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the seventh day was approaching, they purified themselves according to custom and kept the sabbath there. On the following day, since the task had now become urgent, Judas and his companions went to gather up the bodies of the fallen and bury them with their kindred in their ancestral tombs. But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin. (2 Maccabees 12:43-46)
Thus, even in the Old Testament, we have the implication of an intermediary state, where the prayers of the living can assist the purification of the dead. In fact, this passage from 2 Maccabees sums up the Catholic doctrine of purgatory.
We have no way of knowing with absolute certainty, absent a decree of canonization from the Church, that a certain person is indeed in heaven. In our uncertainty, we must seriously consider the possibility that our deceased loved ones may be in heaven, hell, or purgatory. In another article, I wrote the following:
When the phrase “celebration of his/her life” replaces “funeral” or “memorial service”, the full reality and gravity of death escapes full appreciation. Even the idea of using white liturgical vestments at funeral Masses (to symbolize hope in the resurrection) instead of the traditional black vestments seem to tend towards presumption of the deceased’s salvation. Black vestments have been used for funerals since time immemorial precisely because death, the mark of sin and of our fallen condition, is something to be lamented. Death is lamentable because we cannot know with full certitude the destination of our loved ones, and this why we have funerals and Requiem Masses– to pray for the repose of their souls. Those who would presume that loved ones are immediately “in a better place” seem perpetually trapped in the first stage of the Kübler-Ross model: denial. Yet if the deceased did in fact automatically enjoy the Beatific Vision, what would be the point of gathering to pray for them? (“Guaranteed Salvation: dare we presume?“, 17 May 2014).
All Souls Day is about the Last Four Things. It should remind us to pray for the dead, which is a spiritual work of mercy. More importantly, it should remind us of our own mortality, keeping us humble, so that one day, people might not pray for us on All Souls but pray to us on All Saints.