Today the church commemorates All Soul’s Day, or “The Day of the Faithfully Departed.”
This festival day is a product of the evolution of the church and its understanding of the departed and how they play into the eschatological and cosmological understanding of all things.
If saints were those who led extraordinary lives, what about the rest of us?
All Souls Day is an answer to that question. Indeed, many people who aren’t technically “saints” in the narrow definition of the term have led wonderfully beautiful and impactful lives. All Souls attempts to honor that fact. It became common practice, for instance, to lift up particular benefactors of parishes on this day, giving a nod to those who made the physical (and spiritual) structures of the faith possible.
In a more pedestrian sense, All Souls Day is, at least for me, a day where we can all embrace the reality that, saint or not, people deserve to be remembered.
In my first parish we had these magnificent stained glass windows put in decades earlier. In them you could see glimpses of not only the artistry of the day, but you could also feel a sort of timelessness that was pervasive, connecting those who had first stared into and through those windows with me and my own children who looked at them now.
Good art does that: it creates connective tissue between the past and the ever-expanding future.
But All Souls Day is a reminder that good theology does that, too. We stand upon the beliefs of the past, hauling some of them with us, and leaving some on the path behind us as signs and markers of thoughts discarded and avenues that were dead-ends.
All Souls Day lifts up the very practical, very pious, and very pedestrian people on whose shoulders we stand. In this way it is even more meaningful than the pomp and circumstance of All Saints Day.
If All Saints Day is the fine-dining establishment in your city, All Souls Day is the little cafe you frequent where you know the owner, have a favorite booth, and don’t need to glance at the menu because you know it by heart.
In other words, All Souls Day is really where most of us will find ourselves: in the ordinary annals of a life that tried its best, did some great things, fell short quite a bit, but is remembered by a small, but faithful, group of loved ones who know our names.