When I was a child, we called this day, “Poor Souls’ Day.” One year, my paternal grandmother dressed as a poor soul on Halloween. She sewed a white jumper suit, wore a very sad mask and drew up a sign that read, “Poor Soul.” This day has also been called “All Soul’s Day.” It is the day we pray for the souls in purgatory. But the real title of today’s observance is “The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.”
At first I was going to wear another vestment color on this day. I asked Sister Lois Jean about what I vestment I should wear, and, she said, “The nice violet chasuble.” But then I thought, what we can learn from death since according to Professor Charles Taylor, “the greatest crisis around death is the death of someone we love.”
I truly believe that this feast day of the Faithful Departed is a day to pray for our loved ones we miss dearly. This is the day is to remember those who died too young, too soon, unexpectantly, quietly or violently. I remember a child born to friends of mine who lived one hour. I remember a middle aged son who was killed in a hit and run accident. I remember my grandfather who either had a heart attack or killed himself in the garage- we still do not know what happened. I remember a young father who learned one year he had cancer and the next year he died leaving behind a grieving young family. And even if we have an elderly family who died because of many golden years, we still miss the person dearly.
So I decided to wear a vestive gold vestment. This is our funeral vestment at the monastery chapel. It speaks of hope.
When we pray for All The Faithful Departed we hope. Prayer for the deceased is ancient. It begins in Judaism in the Book of Maccabees. Judas Maccabeaus rallies his troops to fight his enemies. Some Jews die in the battle. As they gather the fallen bodies to bury them in their ancestral tombs, they discover that many of the soldiers have amulets sacred to pagan idols under their tunics. He pays for expiation sacrifices to be performed at the Temple in Jerusalem to atone for their sin. Then, he asks the entire assembly to pray for the fallen soldiers since Judas believes in “the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness.”
When we find redemption in the death of the Faithful Departed then we hope. Remember the words of St. Martha to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” These words must have been on the lips of every Amish parent who lost daughters in 2006 near Lancaster, PA. Charles Roberts walks into an Amish school house and shoots ten young girls, five die. Then he turns the gun on himself. What do the Amish do? They do not hire lawyers. There is no press conference. Instead, a grandfather of one of the dead girls announces his forgiveness of the killer. Then, redemption begins to pour out like water. Many invite Mrs. Roberts and her family to the funerals. At Charles Roberts’ funeral there are more Amish then friends and family. What is equally redemptive is how the killer’s grieving mother does after that horrible day, even today. Once a week, Mrs. Terri Roberts spends a day with Rosanna, one of the Amish survivors. Rosanna is fourteen years old now. She lives in a wheelchair and eats through a tube. Terri sings to her, bathes her, reads to her and feeds her.
Jesus says to us “I am the Resurrection and the Life. All those who believe in me will never die.” They find redemption especially in the midst of tragedy and death. But you know what we also find when we hope, we discover presence. The Irish poet, the late John O’Donohue writes,
Let us look for you not only in memory
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence…
May you continue to inspire us.
So, today, on All Souls’ Day, the Commemoration of All The Faithful Departed, we who remain hope. There is no better place to hope than the Eucharist. In the words of Revelation: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. ‘Yes,’ said the Spirit, ‘let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them.'”
Fr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
All Souls’ Day
The Commemoration of All The Faithful Departed
 To Bless the Space Between Us, pp. 170-171.