A lesser known word for the season of honoring the dead
By Pedro A. Moreno, O.P.
Director, Office of Hispanic Ministry
Honoring the dead is an ancient custom across the world. Every country, state, city and town has an officially designated cemetery. You can go as far back, and even before, the pyramids to study the ancient practices for burying and honoring the dearly departed.
The book of Deuteronomy, 34:5-6, mentions a famous burial. “So there, in the land of Moab, Moses, the servant of the Lord, died as the Lord had said; and he was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; to this day no one knows the place of his burial.”
The Gospel of Mark, 6:29, mentions the burial of the John the Baptist. “When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.”
The best example of this ancient custom of honoring the dead by reverently giving them proper burial is what happened to Jesus on that first Good Friday. The Gospel of John mentions this fact, 19:41-42. “Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So, they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by.”
Today, the Lord’s tomb is the most visited empty tomb in the world and the catacombs are not far behind.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1690, reminds us of an important aspect of Christian burial.
“A farewell to the deceased is his final commendation to God by the Church. It is the last farewell by which the Christian community greets one of its members before his body is brought to its tomb. The Byzantine tradition expresses this by the kiss of farewell to the deceased: By this final greeting we sing for his departure from this life and separation from us, but also because there is a communion and a reunion. For even dead, we are not at all separated from one another, because we all run the same course and we will find one another again in the same place. We shall never be separated, for we live for Christ, and now we are united with Christ as we go toward him … we shall all be together in Christ.”
Paragraph 2300 also adds an essential reminder. “The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.”
After our brothers and sister are long gone and buried, we still remember them. We offer prayers to God on their behalf and we cherish the good lessons and memories they left us. Some families might have a Bible or a rosary from someone long past. Others might keep a lock of hair or a toy of a deceased child. We remember because of the impact on our lives. We joyfully remember because of thankful love.
Within the Catholic family of disciples, we hold dearly to the remembrances of those who are no longer with us and who the Church assures us are now in heaven with God, the blessed and the saints. Our remembrances of them are called relics.
During the three days of the Allhallowtide, All Hallows Eve (The eve of All Saints Day or Halloween), All Hallows Day (All Saints Day) and All Souls Day, many churches bring out their relics, place them on an altar with candles, and invite the faithful to celebrate and venerate these holy men and women of God who can now intercede on our behalf.
While the Allhallowtide octave is no longer part of our liturgical calendar, most parishes invite us to submit lists of our dearly departed family and friends and then place these lists on the altars for all masses during the week.
To hallow, old English, is to recognize as sacred and therefore to treat it as holy. In the Lord's Prayer, “Hallowed be thy name,” means to honor God's name. It means we reverence God and give him the respect and obedience he deserves. It is the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer where we ask and commit ourselves to make sure that God may be known, loved and served by all.
All Hallows Day (All Saints Day) and its eve, a holy day of obligation, originated in 609 when Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon to the Blessed Virgin Mary. At first celebrated in Rome on May 13, Pope Gregory III (731-41) changed the date to Nov. 1 when he dedicated a chapel in honor of All Saints in the Vatican Basilica. Gregory IV later extended the feast to the whole Church. This is the day to remember, celebrate and hopefully commit ourselves to imitate God’s best friends. If they can be close to Christ and imitate him so well, we can do it too.
All Souls is a feast commemorating the faithful departed on Nov. 2. This celebration had its origins with Abbot Odo of Cluny in his monasteries back in 998, and was gradually adopted by the whole Church. Pope Benedict XV granted all priests the privilege of offering three masses on this day: one for all the poor souls, another for the pope’s intentions and a third for the intentions of the priest.
I would like to end my reflection with some words from Saint John Chrysostom. This was taken from Homily 62 from his book homilies on the Gospel of John.
“For honor to the dead is not wailing and lamenting, but hymns and psalmodies and an excellent life. The good man when he departs, shall depart with angels, though no man be near his remains; but the corrupt, though he will have a city to attend his funeral, shall be nothing profited. Will you honor him who is gone? Honor him in another way, by giving alms, by acts of beneficence and public service.”
Happy and blessed Allhallowtide!