“There’s a cemetery in my backyard!” was a typical anecdote I would tell my peers growing up.
Technically, this cemetery is not directly in my backyard, it’s over a stone wall and to the left…but to a fourth grader “in my backyard” sounded much cooler.
Growing up this close to a burial ground, it never really phased me much, nor did I really think about it. Although, I would play it up when I thought other people thought it was creepy…one Halloween, we even had a scavenger hunt to find the scariest name in the graveyard, but that’s another story…
As I’ve grown older, I have a new appreciation for this cemetery, and the significance of it being there has changed from a spooky anecdote to something much more meaningful. Over the years, we’ve appreciated being able to visit our friends and neighbors who are buried there, just a short walk away. Often we would place flowers or a small statue in remembrance.
Across many different times and cultures, people have always found a way to honor their loved ones who have passed on.
All Souls Day is a holy day set aside for praying for the faithful departed. The day is primarily celebrated in the Catholic Church, but it is also celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church and a few other denominations of Christianity.
According to Catholic belief, the soul of a person who dies can go to one of three places. The first is heaven, where a person who dies in a state of perfect grace and communion with God goes. The second is hell, where those who die in a state of mortal sin are naturally condemned by their choice. The intermediate option is purgatory, which is thought to be where most people, free of mortal sin, but still in a state of lesser (venial) sin, must go.
Purgatory is necessary so that souls can be cleansed and perfected before they enter into heaven. There is scriptural basis for this belief. The primary reference is in 2 Maccabees, 12:26 and 12:32. “Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out… Thus made atonement for the dead that they might be free from sin.”
Additional references are found in Zechariah, Sirach, and the Gospel of Matthew. Jewish tradition also reinforces this belief as well as the tradition and teaching of the Church, which has been affirmed throughout history.
Consistent with these teachings and traditions, Catholics believe that through the prayers of the faithful on Earth, the dead are cleansed of their sins so they may enter into heaven.
And so we pray for our loved ones…the faithful departed.
It’s almost comforting to think that our deceased loved ones still need us here on Earth. They need our prayers.
And although that’s something we would like to think we would remember to do every day…it is a reality that sometimes life gets in the way.
And so we have this day as a reminder.
To remember and pray for those who might not just be a short walk away.
May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
By: Elizabeth Clyons, Communications Associate for the Diocese of Bridgeport