Today is All Souls’ Day commemorating All Souls, the Holy Souls, or the Faithful Departed, that is, the souls of Christians who have died. Observing Christians typically remember deceased relatives on the day. In Western Christianity the annual celebration is now held on 2 November and is associated with the three days of Allhallowtide, including All Saints’ Day (1 November) and its vigil, All Hallows Eve (31 October):
It’s taken me quite a few years to tick off all three days of the triduum, but this year I can complete the set with All Souls. Just about every culture I know of, worldwide, has a special day (or season) to pay homage to the dead. Eventually – if I keep posting – I’ll mention Celtic Samhain which occurs around this time, marking the passage from the summer to the winter season, and is associated with the appearance of spirits of the dead. Unfortunately customs from Samhain and Halloween have merged over the years, and it will be good to pull them apart, as is my wont.
In the Catholic Church, “the faithful” refers specifically to baptized Catholics. The term “all souls” commemorates the church penitent of souls in Purgatory, whereas “all saints” commemorates the church triumphant of saints in Heaven. In the liturgical books of the western Catholic Church (the Latin Church) it is called the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (Commemoratio omnium fidelium defunctorum). Protestants don’t buy into the idea of Purgatory, but both Lutherans and Calvinists have a long tradition of honoring the day. Anglicans are iffy about it (which fits my general belief that Anglicans have never quite made up their minds about whether they want to be Catholic or not – they can’t make up their minds about much of anything).
Saint Odilo of Cluny (c. 962 – 1 January 1049), fifth Benedictine Abbot of Cluny, established All Souls’ Day on 2nd November in Cluny and its monasteries as the annual commemoration to pray for all the faithful departed. The practice was soon adopted throughout the whole Western church (but not the Eastern rite). Among continental Protestants the All Souls tradition has been tenaciously maintained. During Luther’s lifetime, All Souls’ Day was widely observed in Saxony although the Roman Catholic meaning of the day was discarded. Ecclesiastically in the Lutheran Church, the day was merged with, and is often seen as an extension of All Saints’ Day, with many Lutherans still visiting and decorating graves on all the days of Allhallowtide, including All Souls’ Day. Just as it is the custom of French people to decorate the graves of their dead on the jour des morts, so German, Polish, Czech, and Hungarian people visit graveyards once a year with offerings of flowers and special grave lights.
I may get round to a lengthier exposition on the Day of the Dead in Mexico one year. Indigenous celebrations of the departed have been going on in Mexico for millennia. After Spanish colonization these celebrations became linked to the Allhallowtide triduum in some parts of Mexico, especially the south. El Día de Muertos (NOT El Día de LOS Muertos, you Anglophone heathens), can be celebrated on November 1 or 2 or both. In some traditions the 1st is reserved for departed infants and children, and the 2nd for departed adults. Plans for the day are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the three-day period families usually clean and decorate graves. Most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas (altars), which often include orange Mexican marigolds (Tagetes erecta) called cempasúchil (originally named cempoaxochitl, Nāhuatl for “twenty flowers”). In modern Mexico the marigold is sometimes called Flor de Muerto. These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.
Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos), and bottles of tequila, mezcal or pulque or jars of atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased’s favorite candies on the grave. Some families have ofrendas in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto, and sugar skulls; and beverages such as atole.
Here’s my favorite requiem for the day (favorite because I sang in it as a teen):
You’ve got a wide range of possibilities for recipes today. I’ve already given you recipes for soul cakes and mashed potatoes and turnips with fish to celebrate the season. I’ll go with eggs in Purgatory today.
Eggs in Purgatory
6 to 8 large eggs
2 large cans tomatoes, drained and diced
3 tbsp olive oil
¾ cup shredded melting cheese
1 lb fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring until they become soft and their juices, if any, have evaporated. Add the tomatoes and stir to heat thoroughly. With a spoon, make 6 to 8 (for each egg) nest spaces and break an egg into each space. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and cover evenly with cheese. Cover the pan and cook on low heat until the eggs are set. Garnish with parsley. Serve with crusty bread or toast.