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All Souls Day is kind of the odd day out. After Halloween, with ghouls and ghosts being kind of the night-before opposite of all the saints recognized on Nov. 1, All Souls Day in the U.S. on Nov. 2 seems to have the energy that comes with eating too much trick-or-treat candy.
Its Mexican version, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, can be elaborate in some American circles as a recognition of a person's late friends and relatives, but all the souls don't get as much attention.
All Souls Day on Nov. 2 is primarily a Roman Catholic observance. “October 31, the eve of All Saints, and through to Nov. 2 is a three-day reminder to think of all who have died,” said the Rev. Thomas Leyland, a retired priest who previously served at St. Rose Parish in Perrysburg. “We look at the whole month of November as a particular month to pray for the dead.”
At noon on All Souls Day, Father Leyland will be celebrating Mass in the mausoleum of Calvary Cemetery, 2224 Dorr St. Similar masses will be at the mausoleums of Mount Carmel Cemetery, 15 Manhattan Blvd., and Resurrection Cemetery, 5725 Hill Ave. Parishes with cemeteries might also have All Souls Day masses.
The cemetery Mass is “kind of a healing thing for people who have lost loved ones,” Father Leyland said. “A lot of times veterans tend to come to these masses. It's usually a pretty good representation of people. A lot depends on the weather.”
Sister Shannon Schrein, the chairperson and professor of theological studies at Lourdes University, said, “There is an indulgence attached to going to a cemetery on All Souls Day.” To Catholics, an indulgence removes some punishment for sins, and punishment for sins is the focus of All Souls Day.
On All Souls Day, prayers are for those in purgatory, according to Catholic belief: for the dead who will get to heaven and are in a state of grace, but who must first be purified by removing their remaining sins, “that one might come before God in holiness,” Sister Shannon said.
“People who are saved die imperfect,” said Peter Feldmeier, who holds the Murray/Bacik Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies as a professor at the University of Toledo. “All these people [in purgatory] are saved, that's the idea, and we're aligning ourselves to them and praying for them in the final process of purification of union with God.”
All Saints Day, in contrast, "is a celebration for those who we have confidence are part of the mystical body of Christ and, this side of the last judgment, have union with God." Those in purgatory aren't so assured that their sins are burnished, though their salvation is promised--no slipping from there to hell.
Don't confuse purgatory with limbo, once called the place for unsaved souls. In some recent Catholic theology, limbo, which was never an official part of Church teaching, Mr. Feldmeier said, has been minimized by the concept of inclusivism. “The grace of Christ is working through and implicitly saving those who are concerned with his grace,” Christian or not, “responding to the true and the good” in this concept, he said. A recent statement by Pope Francis even gives atheists the possibility of salvation in the Roman Catholic Church, Mr. Feldmeier said. “Jesus' grace working in them is what saves, even if they don't articulate a faith.”
All Souls Day became a Catholic practice in the 10th century, Mr. Feldmeier said, and was official teaching by the 13th century.
But none of this is known for sure, Mr. Feldmeier said. "The Christian tradition is weird. The Bible isn't clear on what happens when you die." He quoted Paul as saying that the dead are in the grave as though sleeping, and also giving another theory of death, and Jesus telling the people to be crucified alongside him that they'll be with him in paradise on that day they're to be executed. "This could take place instantaneously; who knows?" Mr. Feldmeier said.
But for the living who need to remember their loved ones, prayers and traditions give comfort. Some recent All Souls practices are becoming traditions, Sister Shannon said. The Church “initiated a tradition since the Second Vatican Council that the churches keep a book of the dead, and when someone passes away, at the funeral of the liturgy a person enters their name into the book of the dead. On All Souls Day that book is brought up to the altar.”
Some parishes have a tradition of posting the names of all those in the congregation who died in the past year. And some people receive a remembrance candle as a tradition to remember their dead.
All Souls day can keep a priest busy. It's one of only a few days in the year when the priest can say three masses, Sister Shannon said, “One for poor souls, one for their own priestly needs or intercessions, and one for the holy father and the holy father's needs.”