Monday, November 2, 2015

The Feast of All Souls

Today is the Feast of All Souls. You might be confused--didn't we just celebrate this holiday yesterday?

No, that was All Saints. All Saints was originally designed to honor the saints, those who had been beatified:  official saints, canonized by the Pope.  Some traditions would also include Christian martyrs.

All Souls Day, celebrated the day after All Saints, was designed to honor everyone else who had died.

In some traditions, All Saints Day honors all the Christian dead, and All Souls Day honors those who have died in the past year.  In the medieval Catholic theology, those souls would still be in Purgatory, and special prayers would be offered for them on the Feast of All Souls.

Those of you with excellent memories of your English major days may remember that Sir Gawain left for his adventure with the Green Knight on All Souls Day. Medieval audiences would have read a lot into that date of departure.  They would be expecting that next year, Gawain would be one of the souls prayed for on this feast day.

All Souls would develop into the kind of day that drove Martin Luther crazy. On All Souls Day, people would be encouraged to spend money so that their loved ones would get out of purgatory sooner. According to medieval theology, a soul wasn't ready to go to Heaven right away.

A few years ago, I came across a reference piece that talked about the triduum of Halloween, All Saints and All Souls.  Triduum means "three days," but I've only ever heard of it used as the time period between Good Friday and Easter.  It's so much easier to celebrate the Triduum of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls, when it occurs on a week-end.
For me, it will be strange to return to work today, where I expect that many of my co-workers will have put away the Halloween decorations and moved on to thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

I will spend an additional day with the dead, thinking about colleagues, so many of them, who have moved on.  I will think about my favorite English teacher who launched me on this path of being and English teacher and administrator.  I would likely not have gone to grad school had she not told me that I must.  She died of a stroke in February of 2014. 

I will think about the department head who first hired me at the school where I work now.  Like my favorite English teacher, she believed in me and let me create all sorts of Creative Writing classes.  When it was clear that she would be moving to Virginia, she helped me to discern whether or not a move to administration was for me.  And in 2012, after my job disappeared, and I successfully applied for my job in the new structure, she was the first to remind me that my brain had translated those events not just as success but as trauma, and she's the one who told me to rest awhile.  She died in July of 2014 of a reoccurrence of brain cancer.

I will pray for us all.

No comments: