what’s in a name?
Everyone knows about Halloween — more properly, All Hallows’ Eve — and most of us know about the real holy day that comes just after, All Saints’ Day. (Long ago in England it was called All Hallows — all the “hallowed,” the holy or sainted.) But remarkably few Christians know about what happens the day after that: November 2, All Souls’ Day.
All Souls’ Day began about a thousand years ago at a great Cistercian abbey in France called Cluny. There are many stories about how it began, but they all center on the great abbot Odilo, who decided that people needed to remember and understand the celebrate the power of prayer — our prayer.
Now, All Saints’ Day remembers all the saints gathered around the throne of God who intercede for us. Christians through the ages have turned to saints for help because they think that the prayers of saints have special efficacy. But Odilo and the monks of Cluny said, “Don’t forget us! Don’t forget yourselves! All of us are saints too, and our prayers are efficacious, and we can all intercede for one another.”
In other words, Odilo and his monks taught ordinary Christians like you and me that we’re not just the receivers of the intercessions of others, we can be and should be givers as well. As one scholar puts it, All Souls’ Day is the holiday celebrating the “universal democracy of sinners under judgment,” because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God — but all can be saved too, by God’s grace and only by his grace. And all the redeemed have access through the merits of their Savior to the throne of God. The prayers of all the faithful — all the souls — have power.
Often through the centuries, in the Catholic tradition especially, the focus of All Souls’ Day has been on praying for souls in Purgatory, but All Souls’ is a wonderful holiday even for those who don’t believe in Purgatory. It reminds us that we are all, every one of us, in exactly the same boat: under the same judgment, under the same Mercy, and obliged to pray always for one another. And the good Lord, in his grace and kindness, honors our prayers.
And that’s why we’re the souls of All Souls Church!