Saints and Souls: The Church’s Triduum for the Dead

Halloween, All Saints, All Souls–these three days offer a glimpse into the afterlife. Our culture too often pushes the reality of death to the margins,

Halloween, All Saints, All Souls–these three days offer a glimpse into the afterlife. Our culture too often pushes the reality of death to the margins, hiding from its reality even as it pops up in unhealthy and morbid ways. Through these days, the Church guides us in praying through death, offering us hope in our vocation to become a saint and solace in the prayers we offer for the dead. God is the God of the living not the dead (Luke 20:38), and we remain in communion with all those united within the Body of Christ. 

Halloween, also known as All Hallows’ Eve, marks the vigil of All Saints Day. Rather than a preparation day for the solemnity the next day, our culture uses it to focus on the darker side of death. Some of its traditions seem to be derived from the Celtic festival of Samhain, marking a meeting with the dead in the midst of the growing darkness of the year with the onset of winter. Lights were used to ward off spirits, though for the Christian they become a sign of the brightness that Jesus has brought into the domain of death, conquering it through his resurrection.

Perhaps to overcome the remnants of the pagan past, the Church moved the Feast of All Saints from the spring to November 1st in the 8th century. The Church recognized that we truly do have contact with the dead, but this is through our worship of God, not through occult rituals of the night. Around the altar, we stand with all the angels and saints before the throne of God, the true portal that unites those in heaven and those on earth. 

Throughout the year we celebrate canonized saints on their “birthday” into eternal life. On November 1st, we honor all those in heaven, known and unknown. They point us toward our own vocation to enter into the eternal presence of God and to be made fully alive by sharing in his divine life. All Saints Day offers a glimpse of God’s triumph over sin and death as those saved by him enter into the heavenly city. 

On November 2nd, we remember those who have died in Christ, who still need purification from the effects of sin. Only the pure of heart may see God and we must be underburened from the wounds of this world before entering heaven. There are only two everlasting destinations in the next world: heaven and hell. Purgatory is not a third place but a state of preparation for those souls who are bound for heaven and who still experience the unrepaired effects of sin that leave them wounded, burdened, or disordered. Just as we would pray for people on earth who suffer and need help, we do so for our beloved departed ones. Our prayers help the souls in purgatory by offering them to the Lord for the outpouring of his healing mercy.

As Catholics, this triduum of the afterlife offers a rich spiritual harvest. On Halloween, we should contemplate death and reject the machinations of the enemy who wants to pull us into eternal darkness. Embrace the light this day so that no fear of death remains. On All Saints, we celebrate the triumph of Jesus over death, honoring all those in heaven and remembering our own call to join them. On All Souls Day, we pray for the dead, entrusting them to the mercy of God who will wipe every tear from our eyes. 

These prayers for the dead continue throughout the month of November and especially within the All Hallows Octave (Nov 1-8) during which the Exodus community will pray especially for our departed loved ones by name. Send in your names here…


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Dr. Staudt holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Ave Maria University and B.A. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN). He serves as Director of Content for Exodus and as Visiting Associate Professor at the Augustine Institute in DenverHe was previously the Associate Superintendent for the Archdiocese of Denver. He has founded a Catholic school and served as a DRE in two parishes and as Director of Catholic Studies at the University of Mary. He is the author of How the Eucharist Can Save Civilization (TAN), Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture (Divine Providence Press) and The Beer Option: Brewing a Catholic Culture Yesterday & Today (Angelico Press). His editing experience includes six years as the managing editor of the journal Nova et Vetera and the books Renewing Catholic Schools: How to Regain a Catholic Vision in a Secular Age (Catholic Education Press) and The University and the Church: Don J. Briel’s Essays on Education (Cluny Media). 

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