Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Birthday and All Souls

Today, the 2nd November is All Soul's Day and my husband's birthday.  I normally write about All Souls and just tag on the fact that it's my husband's birthday but today, it's the other way around.

As I write, my husband is very ill, lying in a hospital bed in Port of Spain General Hospital where he is being taken care of by the most amazing team of doctors and nurses. Even though so ill, he insisted that the family take cake and ice cream for the medical staff today. Hardly able to speak, he called me at 6am this morning to ensure I had everything set up including plates, spoons, forks and napkins.  By 9.00am my daughter and I were at his bedside having handed over the goodies to the nursing staff. Visiting is normally 11 am to 1.00pm and  4.00pm - 6.00pm.  We were allowed to stay on the ward with him from the time we arrived until whenever we chose to leave.  I have always made an occasion of  special days in the lives of each family member but I did not for one moment think that today I would be by my husband's bedside in a hospital.  However he is in good hands and we keep positive, strong, united, have faith and a determination  that he will survive this terrible ordeal and heal.

Having brought some people up to date on my husband's state of health, I will now say that All Soul's is a Catholic day of Remembrance for friends and loved ones who have passed away.  On this day, during Requiem Masses,  the Office of the Dead has to be recited.

The theological basis for the Feast is the belief that those souls which have left the body not perfectly cleansed, or have not fully atoned for past sins, cannot yet see God.  According to some tradition those left on earth  can apparently help these souls on their journey from Purgatory  by praying for them, offering Masses and giving alms.

Today and this evening many families will go to their family plots and graves, gather around and even bring picnic baskets to celebrate those who have gone before them.  Tonight every forgotten grave will be lit up by candles so that the cemetery/ graveyard will just for one night of the year, be bathed in candle light.    I would like to think that visitors would also light a candle on graves of  the forgotten.  In many instances those graves where the loved ones lie are  not forgotten. It's just that for various reasons not everyone can visit a loved one's grave.  My father lies over 4,000 miles away and there is no way I could fly to be at his side tonight. But I can and do light a candle for both he and Mummy at home this evening.  Even now it's burning brightly beside a photograph of them together.

I like  the customs and traditions of some European countries where candles are burning continuously  (24/7)  as one did  on my Austrian grandmother's grave.  Sadly there is no one left there to  look after my grandmother's grave but I do know that the graveyard keepers,  when they know there is no family left, do keep the candles lit.  In some of those countries there is a photograph of the deceased together with an eternal flame.

It would seem that the origins of this day have been attributed to various religious orders.  Some say the Cluny Order (the nuns still teach here in Trinidad), others the Benedictines who are also  still very much here, on Mount St Benedict, a major land mark in this country.

The Benedictine Monastery, Mt St Benedict, Trinidad 

 Whoever it was, it was a wonderful  custom which to this day, is celebrated, not only here but in many Catholic countries.

My wish on this All Souls is that the souls of my departed relatives have found peace.  And whilst I am wishing them peace, I also wish for complete healing and for peace of mind for my very sick husband.  Happy Birthday darling! Uncomfortable though it is and somewhat painful, you can do this!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

All Saints 1 November 2016

Today, 1 November is All Saints Day which is believed to have been established in the early part of the fourth century and was known as 'Martyrs Day'.  It is a Feast Day which honours all Christian saints whose names we know and those we don't.  Western Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans celebrate this Feast today whereas the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates it on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

In early days many Christians were persecuted by the Romans and died for their belief in God.  To remember those martyrs, various Dioceses set aside special days to celebrate. In the early seventh century the Emperor of the Roman Empire handed over the Pantheon Temple to the then Pope who removed the statues of the Roman gods and consecrated it as 'All Saints' in recognition of all who had died from persecution during the first  three hundred years after Christ.  Pope Gregory 111, in the Diocese of Rome,  instituted the 1 November as All Saints as he consecrated a chapel to all the martyrs, in St Peter's Basilica.  Pope Gregory IV extended the Feast to the entire Church and except in the Eastern Orthodox Church, that is where it remains today.

Then, this is how people came to be made saints and when Christians became free to worship openly, the Church found other ways to recognize sanctity. Early in Christianity people were made saints by popular acclaim which was then sanctioned by the local Bishop. For the last five hundred years or so the path to sainthood has been a much lengthier and a more difficult process.   Sainthood certainly doesn't come as easily as it once did!  Today there has to be proof of extraordinary sanctity in the form of at least one if not two miracles before canonization.  However there are exceptions to every rule as in the case of John XXX111 who does not have a miracle to his name but has other amazing attributes.

In Catholic countries All Saints is a Public Holiday and is seen as a Holy Day of Obligation meaning that one is required to attend Mass.  In other countries, as with many other Feasts, the day has been moved to the nearest Sunday.  Countries and their cultures have different ways of acknowledging and celebrating this Feast.  In Spain, Mexico and Portugal offerings are made.  In Belgium, Hungary and Italy flowers are brought to the graves of dead relatives.  In other parts of Europe, eg Austria, Croatia, Romania  and Poland it is customary to place lighted candles on the graves of relatives.  In parts of Asia, particularly The Philippines, the Feast of All Saints is also observed.  Relatives of those deceased go the graves to clean and repair them, lay flowers and light candles.  In France, church services are held  but by evening the focus has moved towards the dead.  People crowd cemeteries and there is a great deal of cleaning and lighting of candles.  All Saints is closely tied to All Souls which falls on the 2 November  and is dedicated to prayers for the deceased who are not yet glorified.  

All Saints is not a Public Holiday in Trinidad and Tobago but the tradition of the living visiting the family plots in preparation for All Souls is strong and very much part of the culture.  This evening many Trinidadians still put candles in their windows carrying out the age old belief that 'lost souls' will be able to find their way home.  

Happy Feast Day!
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