|All Hallows by Wilhelmine|
Sometimes we need a little message, a note, or a whisper in our ear to tell us that we are loved and appreciated. The same holds true for those who exist purely in spirit.
The feasts of All Saints and All Souls are a pair of days to send those messages and loving whispers to our role models and loved ones who have departed this world. All Saints Day gives us a chance to learn to channel our spiritual energy from those souls who were extraordinary in their gifts and acts while alive, and on All Souls Day, we focus our positive intentions on the dead who are more like you and me, and may need some help in their journey towards the fullness of being.
The tradition of venerating martyrs, saints and other faithful departed began in the first and second century primitive Church. The custom of separating relics and paying homage to deceased saints was certainly a practice among the early Christian communities in Palestine, Asia Minor, and in Rome by the fourth century.
It is true that Samhain, the Celtic feast traditionally celebrated between October 31st and November 2nd, has deeply influenced the character of the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, particularly in Great Britain, Ireland and the US, but the two traditions are clearly distinct. Samhain was an ancient harvest festival and sacramental slaughter which has developed into its commercial descendent, Hallowe’en, or All Hallows Eve. For the Celtic world, November 1st was the beginning of the New Year, and a time that harvest bounty was seen in sharp juxtaposition to the coming days of cold and blight. Perhaps for this reason Samhain was understood to represent a “thin” time, when the living, the dead, and other spirits, could commune less encumbered by the veil of separation.
Still, there is compelling evidence that the establishment of All Saints and All Souls was made independently of the Celtic tradition. First, the Christian veneration of the dead grew from Palestine and Asia Minor, making its way to Rome and then onto the Celtic west. In the Latin world, the day of the dead was not celebrated in autumn, but in spring. Second, there is archival and liturgical evidence to show that the foundation of November 1st as All Saints Day can be definitively pinned on Pope St. Gregory III, a Roman of Syrian origin, who dedicated the feast upon the completion of a chapel which he had built at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The feast was then promulgated throughout the Church by the pope’s successor, Gregory IV (827-844).
The purpose of the Feast of All Saints is to remember both known and unknown spiritual leaders; those who went beyond the normal call of spiritual duty and courage to serve the Divine through works of mercy, bravery and humility.
The Feast of All Souls, also known as the Day of the Dead, which lands on November 2nd, developed out of the early Christian tradition of reading the names of the deceased faithful from a book kept in every parish. The Mass for the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed was established by St. Odilo in the 11th century. Odilo was a Benedictine abbot in charge of the large and influential abbey at Cluny, in Burgundy. From Cluny, the tradition of marking this requiem Mass on November 2nd spread throughout west, and became part of the Roman Rite.
The intention of the requiem Mass for the souls of the dead has always been to help the departed to spiritually grow out of the limitations that may still bind them in the afterlife. For this reason, it is both a solemn requiem and an important work of mercy in which the entire people of God can participate. These feasts are our chance as a community to send our message of love to those who have gone before us. This is the season for sending our love letters to the dead.
 F. Mershman, “All Saints' Day”, The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1905) Retrieved October 29, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01315a.htm
 J.A. Macculloch, Religion of the Ancient Celts (New York: Keagan Paul, 2005), 261
 Ibid. Mershman, The Catholic Encyclopedia.