Culturally, there are numerous ways the dead are honored, just as there are many different funeral customs around the globe.
Q. I come from an evangelical protestant background, so as a recent convert the feast days of All Saints and All Souls still feels a little strange to me. If you had told me about praying to the dead and the saints several years ago I would have said that it sounded positively pagan. I understand the idea of purgatory and praying for the souls that are there but how do we honor the dead exactly?
These are excellent questions. I’d like to point out that we don’t pray to the saints but we ask them for their intercession. It would be the same thing as asking your friend to pray for you. The saints are considered powerful intercessors because they are members of the Church Triumphant and can carry our petitions to the Lord. They’re also not meant to take the place of regular prayer and adoration to Christ. These distinctions are important when understanding what the Church teaches and what we believe.
All Saints Day was the day designated by the Church to celebrate all the saints (known and unknown) in heaven and to recognize their contribution to the Church; as role model, intercessor, and inspiration of tremendous hope. All Souls Day is the Church’s commemoration of the souls in the purifying suffering of purgatory. So one day honors the saints who have entered into the glory of the heaven and the other day is offered as a day of prayer for those souls in purgatory longing to join them.
Now, what does this honor of the deceased look like? Culturally, there are numerous ways the dead are honored, just as there are many different funeral customs around the globe. How the dead are remembered and celebrated outside the Church usually depends on your personal heritage.
Within the Church the ways in which we can honor the souls in purgatory and remember the dead have been established and are universally practiced. A major example would be the very feasts days coming up on November 1st and 2nd. Throughout the year the Saints are celebrated and remembered on the designated feasts days. The most charitable thing the Church can do is to pray unceasingly for the dead through novenas, spiritual enrollment, and most importantly, offering mass. As long as the dead are remembered and their memory respected with masses and prayers, we do them honor.
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