The Commemoration of all the Souls Departed (All Souls Day)
By Fr. Leroy Clementich, CSC
Somewhere in one of the novels by Albert Camus, the French philosopher and writer, writes: “The ultimate issue every person on this planet must eventually face is death.” We all know, of course, how obvious that is. It is good and wholesome therefore, to think about “passing” on this day we call All Souls Day, the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed.
The liturgical title for this day is important, the word commemoration or remembrance stands out so obviously. Clearly, each of us knows well enough that we shall some day die. But that is not the issue. What scares us, I should think, is that we may disappear from the face of this lovely planet and never be remembered, that our name, our face, our person, our character our deeds, good and not so good, will never be recalled. Deep in our psyche, I think, there is the sense that some terrible wrong will have been done if we simply disappear from this earth without notice, without recall and without remembrance. That is why families always write an obituary that speaks of their deepest thoughts regarding their loved ones. Something would be terribly amiss if nothing were said.
There are some beautiful lines in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman that speak to the importance of remembrance:
Willie Loman’s wife says to her sons: “I don’t say that he was a great man; he never made a lot of money; his name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So, attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.”
Something deep inside us, therefore, cries out for recall: Perhaps in our quietest moments we may say: “I was here, I stood on the soil of this planet; I would like to think that this human world now has a mark of my presence on it that cannot be erased for all eternity.
It would also seem to me then that we have an intuition that this person that we are came from the “mind” of the eternal creator, indeed it has been in the mind of God from all eternity. There is something sacred, therefore, about this person; there will never be another person on this holy planet that will be created just as you and I are created. Indeed, we can even say that anything God has created has an eternal destiny. Nothing ever completely disappears from existence; everything has a connection to everything else, including ourselves.
So, what is one to say then about this day we name “All Souls” or on days when we celebrate Christian burial? Could it be said that the question is less about whether the person is in heaven, in the “arms of God? After all, each human person, each product of creation has been in the arms of God from the beginning of time. (Whatever time may mean!) Rather, could we not say that this day is a moment to celebrate, to rejoice that this world (this splendid planet) has somehow been changed? Not only that but that this man, this woman or this child has somehow come into our life and that we are all the better for it?
All that we have said thus far, of course, has its roots in our Judaeo-Christian tradition. The ancient author of the book of wisdom, for instance, writes as follows: “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish to be dead and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are at peace.
We also have countless examples in the gospels where Jesus is distraught by death and calls upon God’s Spirit to bring those back to life those who implore his intercession. Jesus himself at the moment of his crucifixion exclaimed: “Into your hands, Father, I commend my spirit. There is a sense of peace threading through these quotations. From the moment God first thought of us, to the moment when we are handed back to God we have been loved.
The scriptures: Wisdom 3: 1-9 • Romans 5: 5-11 • John 6: 37-40
USCCB Bible Daily Readings: The Commemoration of all the Souls Departed (All Souls Day)