All Saints & All Souls Day: A Reason for Pilgrimage
Autumn is a time rich with symbolism and tradition; harvest season, hayrides, football, the changing colors of leaves, and, of course, holidays such as Halloween. While Halloween as we know it may not seem to be a very Christian, let alone Catholic, tradition, but the origins of the holiday are, in fact, deeply rooted in the Catholic Church as the vespers service for All Hallowed (Sainted) Eve, better known today as All Saints Day, celebrated November 1st, and its follow-up feast, All Souls Day, celebrated November 2nd.
CAtholic Roots of Halloween
The cultural practices of Halloween in America are closely linked to the presence of Irish immigration, where the cultural observation of Samhain, an ancient Celtic holiday noting the death of summer and start of winter, morphed into the Catholic celebration of All Saints and All Souls’ Day. As with the Day of the Dead in Mexico, the living memory of those loved ones who have gone before us is strongly connected to the lives of the Saints for whom they are named for, prayed to and saw as guiding lights in their lives. Other nations with strong Catholic cultural traditions such as Italy, where All Souls Day is celebrated with particular devotion, and Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania and Latvia, also put tremendous significance on these two feast days.
All Saints Day and All Souls Day have practical and cultural meaning as well as theological significance. To begin with, the early Church fathers recognized the need to have a single day to remember all the Saints of the Church, including the innumerable martyrs of Christian persecution, whose names and specific deeds were known only to God. By having a single day of veneration for all Saints, Christians could ensure that no saint was left without commemoration. With the same logic, the subsequent feast of All Souls Day ensured that anyone not yet a saint, as well as all of those who had departed but were no longer specifically remembered by living family, parish and community members would be commemorated was a means of honoring and respecting all. Rather than being a somber, grim occasion, these feasts were also periods of celebration of the saints, allowing for churches to organize processions with Holy Relics and to visit less-frequented chapels and churches in remembrance. The act of having these feasts at the end of the harvest season and the warmer days of early autumn in Europe also reminded the faithful to be grateful for what they had been given, and served as a reminder of the promised Resurrection of the Dead at a period of time farthest away from the celebration of Easter. In practice, All Saints and All Souls Days has also served as an autumn homecoming of sorts; a reason for people who have moved away from their villages and communities to return to their roots for a few days to help clean the family funeral plots at the parish cemetery, dust off the fireplace collection of statuettes and framed images of the saints, and connect with family and friends at church services and processions.
A comemorating Poem
Fr. Greg Friedman, OFM, a popular Franciscan journalist and author on pilgrimage, wrote this poem after visiting his mother’s family village in Fornoli, Italy on All Souls Day some years ago:
Soft golden light
The figures standing at each grave,
Our muted assemblage of the living
Into the shining communion
We seek with those
Who rest alongside marble saints,
And wait for resurrection.
In their formal portraits,
Best-dressed uncles and ancient aunts
Framed in ovals of silver
Affixed to each tomb.
They stare primly forward,
We are momentary
And then move slowly on
Down the path to the shrouded town
And on into the burnished sunset.
The Modern Tradition
One way many modern Catholics can reconnect with their family heritage and living faith traditions is by going on pilgrimages to places such as Ireland, Italy and Poland. A good pilgrimage will not only increase your understanding and knowledge of the faith, but it will also serve as a time to reflect on those family and loved ones who are among the faithfully departed, and allow time for reflection through daily devotions and Masses for the Dead. Even lighting a candle or saying a prayer at a shrine for a saint or miracle held with particular love by a family member is a way to strengthen this connection with the past. Whether it’s a trip to the many monasteries of Ireland where the memories of saints such as Saints Patrick, Brendan, Columbo and Bridget are kept and the giant stone Celtic Crosses of Monasterboice, Drgoheda in County Louth, or visiting the impressive reliquaries of saints in the cathedrals and basilicas in Roma, Padua, Assisi, Venice and other Italian cities, or just catching the glimpses of village shrines and parish cemeteries in your travels across the Old World, pilgrimage is a tremendous way to make better understanding of how to keep your family traditions and heritage a part of your prayer and faith life.
Blessed Feast of All Saints and All Souls Day to all!
Discover your own spiritual heritage and cultivate a deeper connection with the saints through a pilgrimage with Good Shepherd Tours. For more information on how to book your next pilgrimage, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.