When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ 1 Cor. 15:54-55.
Today, the Church marks the Feast of All Souls Day, which is the final day of the triduum (a three-day celebration) consisting of All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. On All Souls Day, the Church recalls all the faithful departed. We appropriately recall those we love who have crossed beyond that frightening door, and we know that for them it holds no fear anymore. The Book of Wisdom teaches:
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace. Wisdom 3: 2-3.
Thus, All Souls Day offers one of the great messages of the Church. Those who have gone before us are not forgotten; actually, they’re not really “gone.” All Souls Day reminds us that our real home lies in that place where “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more…” Rev. 21: 4.
There’s an old Polish custom of leaving their doors and windows ajar on the night of All Souls Day, as a sign of welcome. I’m very fond of that notion, as a reminder to us that we invite those who have passed away back into our lives. In my part of the world, November 2nd is the last day of the celebration of the Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. It’s not uncommon for families to go to the graves of the dead with ofrendas (offerings), to have a picnic at the gravesite, or to build a shrine within the home. These customs, and many others, serve to remind us of two vital lessons: the dead remain with us, and death isn’t the end of the story.
There is nothing morbid, maudlin, or tragic about these traditions. On the contrary, they serve as occasions of great joy and happiness. They provide us with a foretaste of the reunion that our faith teaches, and toward which our hope directs us.
Now that’s “good news.”
Paz de Cristo,
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2011 James R. Dennis