In the Catholic Church, death always takes a holiday because true death does not exist. Instead, the promise of eternal life is celebrated in All Saints Day and All Souls Day and for many Hispanic Catholics, Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos.
“The reason why (we celebrate) is that’s our final destination, all of us are called to be saints — bishops, priests, popes, lay people. We have to be striving for,” eternal life and to be with God and our loved ones, said Father Juan Guido, associate pastor at St. Raphael Church in Springdale. “As Catholics, we need to remember that. One day those graves will be opened … God will make us holy and restore our bodies.”
All Saints Day, formally known as the Solemnity of All Saints and celebrated Nov. 1, is a time the Church remembers all those — not just canonized saints — who have died and have reached heaven. It is a holy day of obligation, but because it falls on a Sunday this year, it is already considered a day of obligation.
In the Western Church, All Saints Day began around 609 when the Pantheon at Rome was consecrated by Pope Boniface IV to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all martyrs, according to catholic.org. Father Guido, diocesan director of divine worship, said many tend to “over concentrate on Halloween,” but All Saints Day is the real celebration for Catholics.
“It’s the celebration of all of the saints that are at their final destination or source of happiness,” he said. “Liturgically speaking it’s a solemnity; it’s really a great celebration and a great triumph of all the saints in Christ.”
Like other churches, St. John the Baptist Latin Mass Community in North Little Rock tries to make All Saints Day a fun celebration for children by holding an “All Saints Party,” held after the 11 a.m. Mass Nov. 1. It will include a potluck meal and games like guessing who the saint is and a competition for the best costume. Chaplain Father Michael Magiera, FSSP, said in past years, some of the saint costumes have been elaborate and extra-creative.
“Our saint is John the Baptist. We had one kid who came in and his costume was a table, with a table cover with his head through it, bloody around his neck — it was absolutely amazing,” he said, adding that it’s a nice alternative to the secularism of Halloween. “It’s simply to counteract all of the garbage that’s out there today. … Why do you think the Church called it ‘All Hallows Eve’ — ‘hallow’ means something holy and revered. What’s holier than a saint?”
All Souls Day, Nov. 2, specifically “commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified” and may be in purgatory, according to catholic.org. In Church teaching, prayers of the living can help those in a state of purgatory atone for their sins and enter into heaven. There is a connection between those who have died and those living on earth, according to the Church.
“It’s about remembering our beloved who continue to entrust in our prayers to God. We remember all the faithful departed,” Father Guido said. “It is asking especially for the souls of purgatory and remembering the memories of those that have gone and sleep in Christ. … It’s not a sense of sadness; it’s a sense of we’re waiting for the resurrection.”
In addition to Mass, several Arkansas churches will celebrate the remembrance days with blessings and rosary processions at cemeteries, special adoration times and photographs of loved ones placed before the altar.
Since Father Norbert Rappold became pastor at St. Peter the Fisherman Church in Mountain Home three years ago, he and associate pastor Father Chris Okeke have celebrated Mass and blessed the graves at the two main cemeteries in the area — Baxter Memorial Gardens and Kirby Tucker Cemetery — on All Souls Day. This year it is scheduled for noon Nov. 2.
“I think it’s just meaningful to people,” Father Rappold said. “Our loved ones are not completely gone. We just enter into a relationship with them in a different way.”
When All Souls Day falls on a Sunday, the priests merely bless the graves, but on a weekday, Mass is celebrated.
“It’s kind of like having them present again at Mass,” Father Rappold said. “Our whole teaching is with communion of saints and that death isn’t an end.”
At the church, members can design a page with information about their deceased loved ones to place in the Book of Life in front of the altar. Sacred Heart of Mary in Barling also will have a Book of Life, which just includes names, and those listed will be remembered during Masses the month of November.
“I think it gives them a chance to remember their relatives that have passed on and the power of prayer,” said Sacred Heart Secretary Julie Anderson. “It’s that opportunity to recognize them and pray for them.”
For Hispanics, the religious aspects of All Saints and All Souls Days combine with the cultural traditions of honoring the dead with the Dia de los Muertos celebration.
Considered a national holiday in Mexico, it is celebrated at midnight on Oct. 31 and continues Nov. 1 and 2 with many traditions, including building private altars at the tomb of loved ones where families can bring the deceased person’s favorite foods, drinks, flowers and mementos. A common symbol of Day of the Dead is the skull, symbolizing death and rebirth, according to catholic.org.
It is the belief that the souls of those who have died visit their families on earth, making it a happy and fun time, said Sister Rosy Perez, CMST, who serves at St. Joseph Church in Conway.
“It is a time to rejoice; life continues and we are still here celebrating them,” Sister Rosy said, who was born in Mexico but has lived in the United States for most of her life. “Culturally speaking, they believe they can go ahead and invite their ancestors to feast with them, the things they enjoyed on earth … Also they believe their loved ones would not want them to be mourning their death.”
Father Mauricio Carrasco, administrator at St. Andrew Church in Danville and St. Augustine Church in Dardanelle, who grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico in the town of Saucillo, said his fondest memories of Day of the Dead were the religious sides of the celebration — attending Mass and decorating the cemetery.
“I remember going to the cemetery and eating oranges,” Father Carrasco said, with oranges as a traditional fruit for the festival. “We’d decorate it with flowers and pray in front of the tomb, make it a celebration.”
Honoring the dead goes beyond remembrances for Hispanics — they are a part of their ancestors.
“Even though they are not here physically, they still exist and have an impact,” Sister Rosy said. “When you see me, you also see generations. You see what I’ve received from them culturally, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, just life. All the richness that has been received, it’s been passed on from our ancestors.”
It’s especially true for Father Carrasco, who partly credits his great-grandfather for his desire to become a priest.
“He died a few months before I was born,” Father Carrasco said. “That’s how vivid his memory was in my mother and it was passed onto me. The memory is very alive in the living.”
At St. Joseph Church in Conway, this is the first year Beacon of Hope Ministry for the bereaved and the Hispanic Commission have teamed up to have a memorial/Dia de los Muertos bilingual Mass for all those who have died in the parish over the past year on Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to bring photos or items that remind them of their loved one to place on the Day of the Dead altar in the church. A reception will follow Mass, with fall food like pumpkin bread and traditional Mexican pan de muerto or “bread of the dead” and sugar skulls.
Sister Rosy said the celebration will be a “bridge builder.”
“It’s definitely a time of grace where we can get together as a community knowing that all of us have to face brothers, sisters, family members … that have passed on,” she said. “Some of us might still be mourning the death of their loved ones. With Dia de los Muertos, we’re sharing our culture, but also inviting others into that truth we’re not gone once we die. We become closer to our loved ones. … As a Catholic community, the understanding of praying for our loved ones is just so important.”
The three observances are more than just remembering those who have died, but rather also remembering where we have come from and keeping with the promise of eternal life, Father Carrasco said.
“Pope Francis said young people need to remember their roots and to have dreams … they need wings to fly and firm roots,” Father Carrasco said. “We need to remember people who taught us the faith … It’s very important to take care of the elderly and in a way, take care of the dead.”
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