All Souls Day, also known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, celebrated on November 2nd was not always a day I looked forward to celebrating on the liturgical calendar because of how I used to think about death and dying. I am thankful for all that I have learned about this day and can truly say that I even look forward to this Memorial in the church. Everyone has experienced the loss of a friend or family member in some form over the course of their life, myself included. Death is a difficult subject, especially to discuss with children, but our beautiful Catholic faith gives us not only this particular day, but the whole month of November to remember those who have passed.
My mother passed away in March 2011. The parish that my family attended when she died, has a wonderful tradition for All Souls Day. They invite any family member or friend who has lost someone in the prior year to come and celebrate Mass together and to pray specifically for those who have died as well as all the souls in purgatory. The parish presents small crosses to the families that have their loved ones' names on them as a token of remembrance. This gesture was so helpful to my family when we were grieving and is something I still remember. Having this specific day to focus on those who have died helps us remember their need for our prayers as well as our own need to prepare for death when God chooses that time for us.
Create a "Home Altar"
In our home, we have created a “home altar” in a central space where we have different things displayed on it throughout the liturgical year. In November, and for All Souls Day, we have three specific decorations that we put out in order to remember our beloved dead. The first thing we do is print photos of those close family members who have passed away and display them on or near the altar in some way. Next, we take the prayer cards from funerals that we have attended over the past year as a way to remember those who have passed more recently. Finally, I have my kids make us some papel picado and use it for decoration so there is a distinct difference in how our home altar is “dressed-up” during the month of November.
Beautiful Cultural Traditions
Papel Picado is a Mexican decorative craft. It is created using colorful tissue paper and cutting elaborate designs into the paper. In Mexican culture, All Souls Day is known as Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead and papel picado is used to decorate home altars, known as ofrendas. We were first introduced to this art when my son was in Kindergarten and at his school, his Art and Spanish teachers worked together to make a collective ofrenda for the school. The children brought in photos of loved ones who had passed away and the Spanish teacher beautifully displayed them. Then the children had the opportunity to make their own papel picado in Art class and their Art Teacher put the pieces together to decorate the school’s ofrenda. It was so moving to see all the loved ones who were being remembered from the school community. It had a lasting impact on my son, which is why we make papel picado every year to decorate our own home altar.
All Souls Day Inspired Dinner
When choosing food to celebrate on All Souls Day, I like to get my inspiration from those we are remembering, our loved ones who have passed away. You could make a favorite dish of your loved one or you could make something that they prepared for you that you have fond memories of eating together.
In our family, we do the latter and prepare some kind of risotto because it was my favorite dish my mom would make for me. The first year that we celebrated All Souls Day, my husband informed me that my mother’s family recipe I grew up eating was not actually risotto. It was just regular rice, Italian sausage, and saffron. We had a good laugh about it because my mother was a pretty good cook, but definitely not official in her culinary knowledge. Since then we have adapted our family’s risotto recipe and enjoy making a Sund-ried Tomato Risotto from the Pioneer Woman.
Following along with the traditions of Día de los Muertos, you can prepare Pan de muerto, or Bread of the Dead. This sweet bread is prepared in the shape of a bun and then decorated using extra pieces of dough to look like bones. Because the bread is topped with an egg and sugar mixture I would serve this as the dessert. A recipe for Pan de muerto can be found here.
No matter how you choose to celebrate All Souls Day the most important thing you can do with your family is pray. Pray for those you know who have died and pray for the souls in purgatory who may not have anyone else to pray for them. In our faith we believe that God’s ultimate design is for all of us to be with Him one day in Heaven. Souls in purgatory need our help since they cannot pray for themselves. A beautiful simple prayer is the Requiem aeternam: “Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen”. Pray this prayer saying your loved ones by name and know that your efforts do not go unnoticed by God.