All Souls’ Day: Significance and purpose

ROSES AND THORNS - Pia Roces Morato - The Philippine Star

As Catholics, All Souls’ Day is celebrated by praying for our faithful departed, those close to us as well as for the holy souls in purgatory. “Undas” as we know it, is part of our longstanding culture as Filipinos where many families take advantage of the holiday to visit their dead and offer flowers, prayers, as well as use the occasion to bond with their loved ones.

The Catholic faith, if one may recall in catechism class, teaches us why it is important to pray for the dead and that is simply because we hold them still so close to our hearts while trusting that they are with God in their heavenly home and resting in peace.

Many other faiths also commemorate this day in their own traditional ways and perhaps, one thing we all share in common regardless of faith is the time we use to honor the life of someone we lost who was once dear to us. These are moments when even our own children hear stories of the past – about a grandmother or a grandfather and what their lives meant to their parents, especially in times of crisis or war and how their experiences can be applied in their current lives.

The significance of this day allows us to either understand or become introspective about our own circumstances while reflecting on the past and finding the necessary healing if needed and maybe, for some, to finally have closure.

All Souls’ Day is most of all a reminder that death is not the end. As Christians, we believe in eternal life and our earthly death is just the beginning of our eternal journey. Eternal life awaits us all and the hope is that we attain one of peace. The observation of this holiday, even around the world, focuses on remembering our loved ones who are now in a restful place.

In Guatemala for example, All Souls’ Day is celebrated with people flying kites and writing notes to their loved ones in heaven. In Mexico, they have what is called “Dia de los muertos” where people create private altars for their ancestors and decorate them with photographs, flowers and candy skulls. In Hungary, people leave their lights on the entire night and leave food on the table in loving memory of their loved ones while in Peru, people share a loaf of sweet bread to celebrate the occasion.

The people of the world have many different traditions on how they make this day memorable and the purpose for most is to honor the life that was once lived by someone who was very special to them. For us Filipinos, one is never surprised as to why this day is so important to us as primarily speaking, we are by culture very familial. For our young children, it is a good way to honor their family history in the hope that they can gain some good insight that may be useful for their future.

News from the Vatican says that this year, Pope Francis is celebrating All Souls’ Day at the War Rome Cemetery containing 426 Commonwealth burials from the Second World War. The pope has dedicated the holy mass in honor of those suffering from wars around the world. Quite significant isn’t it? I would think so, considering our current events but, most especially on this day, we find ourselves praying more for the dead and with purpose as we are in very difficult times.

Perhaps the stories from the past will help us understand today’s situation. Simply put, this day has become more meaningful to many people around the world and the hope is that through the prayers we offer, people everywhere will be inspired to help those who are suffering from grief and loss due to so many conflicts as well as find comfort that their loved ones are in a better place.

I suppose in the end, it also suffices to say that, praying for those who have died leaves us with the strength to endure what once was endured by those who have left us behind. There is indeed great purpose found in such an occasion that goes beyond the usual holiday in celebration of All Souls’ Day.

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