Meanderings of a Minister

Day of the Dead Makes You Appreciate Life
November 2, 2012, 2:56 pm
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What do you think of when you see that title?  If you are American, or have your roots in a country not located in Central or South America, you might think it is the title of a really bad movie or even worse novel.  If you are from one of those places, you recognize this as the name of a holiday, but what is it and why do people celebrate it?

The original name of the holiday is All Souls’ Day and is a predominantly Catholic tradition, although it is often syncretized with other pagan celebrations in countries where Catholicism has been combined with local religions.  In instances where it has been syncretized, it is often referred to as the Day of the Dead.

All Souls’ Day is based upon the traditional Catholic teaching of purgatory.  The basic Catholic teaching is that some souls of the faithful have not been cleansed from temporal punishment due to venial sins and from attachment to mortal sins and; thus, cannot immediately attain to the beatific vision in heaven.  In other words, they had not attained to a sufficient level of sanctification and have to go to a place of temporary waiting until their loved ones can produce a superfluity of grace that can be applied to their account posthumously.  This can be through prayers, sacrifice of the Mass, indulgences, or other means of obtaining grace.  When the sufficient amount of grace has been accumulated and applied, being fully sanctified, they can enter into the beatific vision in heaven.

All Souls’ Day or the Day of the Dead provides an official observance whereby loved ones are set aside from the normal pursuits of life to provide a concentrated effort to these means.  Many will attend Mass, if provided.  Others will spend time in prayer, give offerings to the poor, share food, beverages, or gifts with the poor, or other means of obtaining this grace.  Many times, this observance will include some prayer at the loved ones’ grave in order for the grace to be directly applied to that particular loved one.

Outside of the United States, there are various other additions to the celebrations, some somber and some festive, depending upon the country of origin.  In Spain, the day is spent in festival and celebration of deceased loved ones’ lives.  In Mexico, banks are closed and many families will have large gatherings and will share food and gifts with each other before visiting the cemetery for the time of prayer.  Many will also make Catrinas or dolls commemorating their loved ones.  In Guatemala, it is traditional to build large kites and fly them on this day.  In Ecuador, most of the day is spent in the cemetery with a celebration in which they eat a fruit porridge, called colada morada, with guagua de pan, a specially formulated bread shaped like a swaddled infant.

The variations of the celebration are vast.

Outside of Catholicism, All Souls’ Day is also celebrated in some liturgical churches, most notably, many Methodist churches, but the observance is quite different as it is often a day of remembering departed church members and family members and is not seen as a means of applying grace as these churches do not hold to the Catholic tradition of purgatory as it is not found in the Bible, but created by papal decree.

That being said, as believers in Jesus Christ, and being the recipients of His grace and mercy, let us also celebrate the faith of those generations past, but let us also celebrate that our salvation, sanctification and attainment of grace is not by our works, nor the works of any of our family that comes behind us.  As in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16), let us understand that there is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment (Hebrews 9:27) and no one come go from torment to Abraham’s bosom and no one can go the other way.  Our eternity is based solely upon our receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and His grace is sufficient to account to our account.  Let this also be a celebration of salvation of your soul, if you are a follower of Jesus, and a day of prayer for those that are not.  Let it also be a day of celebrating those that have been examples in the faith along the way.


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