Almost all religions have some belief in the afterlife. This comes from the very human desire to maintain contact with one’s friends and family even after death. The Chinese believe in venerating their ancestors, while Buddhists and Hindus believe the souls of the departed return to earth in other bodies, depending on the good deeds – or karma – performed in this life.
Catholics believe in praying for those deceased who have died righteously, but are not purified enough to be with God. This belief underlies the idea of Purgatory, a place of ‘cleansing, and purging’, where believers on earth can pray and offer sacrifice for their dead. As the book of Maccabees says, “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.”
The feast of All Souls as we know it today was established by St Odilo, abbot of Cluny, France, in 998. It grew rapidly in popularity, and by the 13th century, was placed immediately after All Saints. Pope Benedict XV granted priests the privilege of celebrating three Masses on this day, moved as he was by the millions of soldiers killed in the First World War. This practice continues even today.
The feast of All Souls is a day of hope for the entire Christian community – for those who now share in the fullness of the resurrection, the saints; for us, still labouring on earth; and for those destined for final glory, but who await their complete purification.
Thus does the Church of God span space and time, this life and the hereafter, and we are assured that those closest to us in life will continue to be with us in “life after life”.