Saturday, November 2, 2019

All Souls Day: Remember, Venerate, Pray

[first published November 2, 2014]

by David Pence

We live in a reality both visible and invisible. We trust our senses so much that we can become tricked into thinking realities which are not accessible through the senses are somehow not real. Some people call that epistemological error "the Scientific Revolution." They even boast of that great sundering of Truth as progress!

The Church begins the last month of the liturgical year by remembering the dead. Yesterday -- the saints. Today -- all the souls departed. Almost every human culture knew the dead were not really dead. It took modern intellectuals to deny the reality. We keep pictures of those who have passed in our homes. Other cultures keep a flame and incense. Let us learn from the veneration of ancestors that marks Chinese and other Asian cultures. (See our review of Simon Chan's Grassroots Asian Theology).


Let us embrace the Mexican tradition of gifts for the little ones on one day, and good drink for the adults on the next. Let us remember the ever-present skull in the paintings of a wiser age 500 years ago. So often the Church reminds us of the truth. On Ash Wednesday we are dressed in the ashes to remind us from whence we came and where we are headed. For Catholics the Mass is where we always, and everywhere, make trek with the dead. Let us, as Catholics, especially keep sacred the liturgy of the Mass so there is the distance and formality that allows us to live amidst the angels and the saints and truly recall the dead in our prayers. Nothing so distracts us from the invisible as too heavy an emphasis on those around us as the fundamental unit of community. There is a Capuchin church in Rome with crypts of bones on the walls. A placard in five languages reminds us of the lesson of this day: "What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be..."

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