In Western Christianity, All Souls' Day commemorates the faithful departed. This day is observed in the Roman Catholic Church, churches of the Anglican Communion, and to some extent among Protestants. The Eastern Orthodox Church observes several All Souls' Days during the year. The Roman Catholic celebration is based on the doctrine that the souls of the faithful which at death have not been cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for mortal sins, cannot attain the beatific vision in heaven yet, and that they may be helped to do so by prayer and by the sacrifice of the Mass (see Purgatory).
All Souls' Day is also known as the Feast of All Souls, Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed (from the Latin Commemoratio omnium Fidelium Defunctorum), Defuncts' Day (in Mexico and Belgium), or Day of the Dead (in Hungary, France and Italy).
The Western celebration of the feast falls on November 2 and follows All Saints Day, which commemorates the departed who have attained the beatific vision. Since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council the feast is celebrated on November 2 even in years when that date falls on a Sunday. In the traditional Latin rite, the observance is transferred to Monday, November 3 if November 2 is a Sunday, as the Mass for the dead and its black vestments is seen as inconsistent with the joyous nature of Sunday.
The Eastern church celebrates several days throughout the year, most falling on Saturdays, because of Jesus' resting in the tomb on Saturday.
The custom of setting apart a special day for intercession for certain of the faithful departed is very old. But the first feast of general intercession was first established by St. Odilo of Cluny (d. 1048). The legend is given by Jesse Voyles in his Life of St Odilo. According to this, a pilgrim returning from the Holy Land was cast by a storm on a desolate island. A hermit living there told him that amid the rocks was a chasm communicating with purgatory, from which perpetually rose the groans of tortured souls. The hermit also claimed he had heard the demons complaining of the efficacy of the prayers of the faithful, and especially the monks of Cluny, in rescuing their victims. Upon returning home, the pilgrim hastened to inform the abbot of Cluny, who then set 2 November as a day of intercession on the part of his community for all the souls in purgatory. The decree ordaining the celebration is printed in the Bollandist Acta Sanctorum (Saec. VI, pt. i. p. 585). From Cluny the custom spread to the other houses of the Cluniac order, was soon adopted in several dioceses in France, and spread throughout the Western Church. In time the entire month of November became associated with prayer for the departed in the Western Catholic tradition. Nonetheless the 2 November retained a special status as a day set apart for that purpose.
Eastern Orthodox Church
Among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians there are several All Souls' Days during the year. Most of these fall on Saturday, since it was on a Saturday that Jesus Christ lay in the Tomb, and are referred to as Soul Saturdays. They occur on the following occasions:
* The Saturday of Meatfare Week (the second Saturday before Great Lent)—the day before the Sunday of the Last Judgement
* The second Saturday of Great Lent
* The third Saturday of Great Lent
* The fourth Saturday of Great Lent
* Radonitsa (Monday or Tuesday after Thomas Sunday)
* The Saturday before Pentecost
* Demetrius Saturday (the Saturday before the feast of Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki—26 October)
(In the Serbian Orthodox Church there is also a commemoration of the dead on the Saturday closest to the Conception of St. John the Baptist—September 23)
Saturdays throughout the year are devoted to general prayer for the departed, unless some greater feast or saint's commemoration occurs.
At the Reformation the celebration of All Souls' Day was fused with All Saints' Day in the Anglican Church, though it was renewed individually in certain churches in connection with the Catholic Revival of the 19th century. The observance was restored with the publication of the 1980 Alternative Service Book, and it features in Common Worship as a Lesser Festival called "Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls' Day)".
Among continental Protestants its tradition has been more tenaciously maintained. Even Luther's influence was not sufficient to abolish its celebration in Saxony during his lifetime; and, though its Ecclesiastical sanction soon lapsed even in the Lutheran Church, its memory survives strongly in popular custom. Just as it is the custom of French people, of all ranks and creeds, to decorate the graves of their dead on the jour des morts, so German people stream to the graveyards once a year with offerings of flowers.
Certain popular beliefs connected with All Souls' Day are of pagan origin and immemorial antiquity. Thus the dead are believed by the peasantry of many Catholic countries to return to their former homes on All Souls' Night and partake of the food of the living.  In Tyrol, cakes are left for them on the table and the room kept warm for their comfort. In Brittany, people flock to the cemeteries at nightfall to kneel, bareheaded, at the graves of their loved ones, and to anoint the hollow of the tombstone with holy water or to pour libations of milk on it. At bedtime, the supper is left on the table for the souls.
In Bolivia, many people believe that the dead eat the food that is left out for them. Some claim that the food is gone or partially consumed in the morning.
Topics: All Souls' Day
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