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Asking the Clergy: What is All Souls' Day all about?

The Rev. Christopher Sullivan of Holy Family Roman

The Rev. Christopher Sullivan of Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, the Rev. Adrienne Brewington of United Methodist Church of Babylon, and the Rev. Marie A. Tatro of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. Credit: Diocese of Rockville Centre; Adrienne Brewington; Yeong-Ung Yang

On the holy days following Halloween, Christian denominations across Long Island will be honoring those who have died during the past year. This week’s clergy discuss how they remember the departed with healing prayers and other special services.

The Rev. Christopher Sullivan

Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, Hicksville

On All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2, we pray for all the souls in purgatory, those who have died but are not yet in heaven.

When we sin, there are eternal effects and temporal effects. The eternal effect of sin, our need for salvation, is healed when we take advantage of the grace of Christ’s crucifixion at baptism and confession. However, even if we go to confession, the temporal effects of sin can remain. The temporal effects of sin are something we’ve all experienced; you get into a fight with your spouse, you go to confession and are forgiven by God, but you still need to heal the wounds of that relationship by having a conversation or buying flowers.

When Catholics go to confession, we receive a penance not to earn forgiveness — Jesus did that on the cross — but to heal the temporal wounds of sin. If we die in friendship with God but do not heal the wounds of our sins in this life, rather than forgetting them, God heals us of those wounds in purgatory. On All Souls’ Day, we pray for the healing of all those souls in purgatory so that they can enjoy eternity with God in heaven.

The Rev. Marie A. Tatro

Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, Episcopal Diocese of Long Island

Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 and 2 are three consecutive holy days known as Allhallowtide.

Many of us are familiar with All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, when we remember the saints, known and unknown. And everyone knows about the day before, All Hallows' Eve or Halloween. These observances likely originated from Celtic harvest festivals, when the veil between physical and spiritual worlds was believed to be thinnest, and the dead would return home.

But less widely understood is All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2, a lesser (optional) festival of the Episcopal Church. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is when people pray for those in purgatory. During the Protestant Reformation, the doctrine of purgatory was disavowed, creating confusion and disagreement about how, or whether, it should be observed.

In today’s Episcopal Church, All Souls’ Day is for remembering the faithful departed. In my home parish, we would place in a basket at the altar a piece of paper with the names of deceased loved ones. We would then collectively focus our private and communal prayers toward this community of departed souls. Despite its name, some regard All Souls’ Day as a service more for the living. Indeed, it brings comfort and provides community in times of grief.

The Rev. Adrienne Brewington

Pastor, United Methodist Church of Babylon

United Methodists do not traditionally celebrate All Souls’ Day. We do, however, remember the dead on All Saints’ Day, an observance typically reserved for the first Sunday of November.

On that Sunday, we pause during the service to read a roll of the "saints" — those members of the congregation who have died since the previous All Saints’ Day. The reading of each name is sometimes accompanied by the toll of the church bell or the chimes on the organ. Votive candles might be lit for each person on the list or flowers put in a vase as the person’s name is read.

By pausing to reflect and remember in this way, we are giving thanks to those who have come before us in faith and ministry. It is especially poignant when we count ourselves as being among the future saints whose names will be celebrated one day. My personal practice is to use the day to give thanks for family and other loved ones who have already passed on, and who contributed in any way to who I have become as a Christian believer and pastor.

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