November days for the dead

Nov 2, 2023
Flowers and lit votives mark All Souls Day at San Pedro Spiritual Development Center in Winter Park.

WINTER PARK | November begins with days specifically remembering the dead. But how are All Saints, All Souls and Cemetery Sunday connected?

One could unite them with just one word, heaven. The Solemnity of All Saints (Nov. 1) celebrates the saints who are already in heaven. It is a holy day of obligation when Christians are reminded that sainthood is the ultimate goal of every Catholic. The saints, known and unknown, are models of faith giving hope to mankind.

Nov. 2 is All Souls Day, the time when we pray for all those who have gone before us who are awaiting union with the Father in heaven. Father Nathanael Soliven, parochial vicar at St. James Cathedral in Orlando, said our prayers expedite their journey to heaven.

“There’s a strong connection between purgatory and heaven, such that everyone who is in purgatory will eventually go to heaven” he said citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s definition of purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030).

All Souls Day is a day specifically dedicated to praying for those souls, to remember them. Yet Father Soliven said, “We should be praying for them more frequently, which is why we have the practice of offering Masses for the dead. These are intentions for the eternal repose of the soul for which it is offered.”

Following on the heels of All Souls is Cemetery Sunday, Nov. 5. This day centers around the location where souls are laid to rest. Whether through a Mass, cleaning of a tombstone or the laying of fresh flowers at a gravesite, it is a special opportunity to visit the graves of loved ones.

David Branson, director of cemeteries for the diocese, explained the Catholic custom of cleaning and decorating the graves of loved ones at least once a year began in Ireland centuries ago and followed the migration of the Irish to the United States, where it has been somewhat regularized to the first Sunday of November. It is a date on or within the Octave of All Souls Day.

“Bringing flowers and or a token of love to the burial site of someone dear to us provides a special opportunity to bring them close to us in prayer; for they are certainly praying for us, and we should be praying for them,” he said. “The love, beauty, and power of our prayers for them will not wither like our flowers. Visiting and spending quiet time in a cemetery, even if a loved one is not near, stimulates contemplation of our assurance that we have the hope of eternal life.”

Branson suggests faith formation students and those in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) visit a cemetery to facilitate the contemplation that “we are One Church — we who are alive, those who are being prepared to enter heaven and those who are ecstatic in the Holy Presence.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, November 02, 2023