Today is the last day of our autumn triduum. "Triduum" is a Latin word for 3 days, and it's most commonly used for the time between Good Friday and Easter. But the days of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls are deeply linked, and in similar ways.
Halloween is the shortening of an earlier name for the holiday: All Hallows Eve. In some cultures, it would simply be the night before the Feast of All Saints, a rather benign feast. Other cultures see this time as one of the thinnest spaces, when it's easiest for souls to slip between worlds--and thus, we see the variety of holidays designed to ward off evil spirits, appease the ancestors, and protect the living--in various combinations.
Most of us understand at least some of the symbolism that comes with Halloween. Those of us who are church going folks have probably celebrated our dearly departed in early November. But what about the overlooked Feast of All Souls?
The Feast of All Saints was originally designed to honor the saints, those who had been beatified. Official saints, canonized by the Pope. Some scholars point out that in many countries it was a feast day that honored those who had been martyred for the faith, and that some of those worship services might have been somewhat jarring, with disturbing stories and perhaps an artifact or relic on display.
All Souls Day, celebrated the day after All Saints, was designed to honor everyone else who had died. I've also heard it described as the day that honors those who had 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.
In most of the U.S. and Europe, we live in a culture that tries every way possible to deny death and the fact that we are all here for a very short time. But this triduum reminds us not only to honor our dead loved ones and spiritual heroes, but also to take advantage of every minute that we have because we don't have very many of them.
Many of us won't have a chance to worship today, but we can take some time to think about the mystery enfolded in this triduum. We could remember our loved ones and the stories they would have told us. We can think of what we'd like to accomplish in our remaining years.
We are already skating down the corridor which takes us to Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's a time of breathless pace for many of us. Let us take another day to remember the souls of those gone before us. Let us think of our own mortal souls which will not be on this earth for a very long time. Let us resolve to strengthen our spiritual lives, so that we serve as saints for those coming after us.
Here's a prayer I wrote for today:
Comforter God, you know that we miss our recently dead. We do take comfort from your promise that death will not have the final word, but there are stages of our grief where it is difficult to believe. Please forgive us our unbelief and doubt. Please keep reminding us of your love and care. Please strengthen us to be able to provide the same quality of love and care to those around us who are grieving loss. Please keep our creative imaginations focused on the redemption of Creation, where you have promised we will not have any reason to cry anymore.
feeling the feelings…
1 year ago