SHOULD CHRISTIANS OBSERVE ALL SOULS’ DAY?
by Shawn Brasseaux
What exactly is All Souls’ Day? Should Christians celebrate it? “For what saith the Scriptures?”
Let us begin by announcing that there is nothing in the Holy Bible about “All Souls’ Day.” However, the Catholic Encyclopedia has the following:
“The commemoration of all the faithful departed is celebrated by the Church on 2 November, or, if this be a Sunday or a solemnity, on 3 November. The Office of the Dead must be recited by the clergy and all the Masses are to be of Requiem, except one of the current feast, where this is of obligation.
“The theological basis for the feast is the doctrine that the souls which, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past transgressions, are debarred from the Beatific Vision, and that the faithful on earth can help them by prayers, almsdeeds and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass. (See PURGATORY.)
“In the early days of Christianity the names of the departed brethren were entered in the diptychs. Later, in the sixth century, it was customary in Benedictine monasteries to hold a commemoration of the deceased members at Whitsuntide. In Spain there was such a day on Saturday before Sexagesima or before Pentecost, at the time of St. Isidore (d. 636). In Germany there existed (according to the testimony of Widukind, Abbot of Corvey, c. 980) a time-honoured ceremony of praying to the dead on 1 October. This was accepted and sanctified by the Church. St. Odilo of Cluny (d. 1048) ordered the commemoration of all the faithful departed to be held annually in the monasteries of his congregation. Thence it spread among the other congregations of the Benedictines and among the Carthusians.
“Of the dioceses, Liège was the first to adopt it under Bishop Notger (d. 1008). It is then found in the martyrology of St. Protadius of Besançon (1053-66). Bishop Otricus (1120-25) introduced it into Milan for the 15 October. In Spain, Portugal, and Latin America, priests on this day say three Masses. A similar concession for the entire world was asked of Pope Leo XIII. He would not grant the favour but ordered a special Requiem on Sunday, 30 September, 1888.
“In the Greek Rite this commemoration is held on the eve of Sexagesima Sunday, or on the eve of Pentecost. The Armenians celebrate the passover of the dead on the day after Easter.”
All Souls’ Day is observed on November 2, and it is clearly connected to Halloween (October 31). Halloween itself is definitely not of Christian or Biblical origin. (For more information, see our study linked at this end of this article.) All Souls’ Day should not be confused with All Saints’ Day, which is November 1. (For more information, see our study linked at this end of this article.)
Simply put, All Souls’ Day is a Roman Catholic feast-day to remember and honor “the faithful departed” (with particular emphasis on those allegedly not in Heaven yet, but are still suffering in purgatory). Various other denominations have been influenced to observe it, including Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodist churches. While practices and traditions vary among groups and countries, cemeteries are usually visited and graves are cleaned and decorated with flowers and/or other objects. Depending on the denomination, prayers for the dead may be offered. This, of course, is certainly not found in the true Bible. (Prayers for the dead are in the Roman Catholic Bible—namely, the apocryphal book known as 2 Maccabees.)
Nothing in the real Bible—the “Protestant” (King James) Bible—establishes any feast-days for us in this the Dispensation of Grace. Saint Paul, in the Books of Romans through Philemon, was careful to note the observance of religious holidays and other “holydays” was legalistic (distractions from grace-oriented living): “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Galatians 4:9-11). “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).
Let there be no misunderstanding. There is nothing wrong with cleaning and/or decorating the graves of loved ones. However, so as to “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22), it is not acceptable for the Bible-believing Christian to do it on a day rooted in pagan superstition and false doctrine. Furthermore, prayers for the dead are nothing but religious tradition. God’s Word does not encourage them. Those who have died have already had their chance to trust Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. No longer on Earth, their time is up. Either they believed on Him in the heart (and went to Heaven), or they did not believe on Him in the heart (and went to Hell). No prayers can help them in Hell. Contrary to Roman Catholic teaching, there is no “purgatory” (a place of temporal punishment meant to atone for any sins that prevent a soul from entering Heaven). For more information, see our “All Saints’” article linked below.