“Bifurcated” All Souls’ Day

by Juan L. Mercado


(The October 23 canonization of  Pedro Calungsod, by Benedict  XVI in Rome,  elevated   a Filipino, among those venerated as  saints —  with  Capital “S” :Mary and spouse Joseph,  Simon Peter and John, Francis of  Assissi, Therese of Liseux  and, yes Lorenzo Ruiz   They’re honored on  November 1: “All Saints Day.” On  November  2  is “All Souls Day”. Below is an article we wrote, years back. on those who men and women have gone before us. — JLM).

“We give back to You who first gave them to us: our faithful dead, whose beauty and truth are even now in our hearts.” — Rufus Ellis 

“All  Souls Day is —   what’s the word now?, the wife said at a  dinner, some years back,  just before Halloween.  “Bifurcated   “Half a world away, our grand-daughters  trick-or-treat today,” she explained. “Here, our grandchildren bring flowers for family graves — including ours sooner rather than later.”

Oh, that.

A contraction of “All Hallows Eve” (All Saints Day), Halloween marked the Celtic new year. In 1848, Irish immigrants brought those spooky costumes to the US where it continues today as a fun-filled kids’ feast.

From its start, the Church prayed for the dead. By the year 998, Benedictine abbot Oddilo of Cluny picked November 2 for remembrance. The practice spread to other countries.

The living can help the departed, the doctrine went, by asceticism’s trio of prayer, sacrifice and alms. They’d help atone for past transgressions, and pave entry into the Beatific Vision.

“Lift us up, that we may see further, as one by one, You gather scattered families, from the distractions, strife and weariness of time, to the peace of eternity,” the ancient prayer goes. “Death is only a horizon, and a horizon is the limit of our sight. We thank you for the labor and joys of these mortal years, We thank you for the deep sense of mystery that lies beyond our mortal dust”.

The desire to “see further” echoes in newsrooms. “Here come  those  de-cajon stories,” an editor snapped. She meant those humdrum All Souls Day stories  from: traffic jams to squatters living in crammed cemeteries. “Is that all there’s to this?”

No, it’s not. But the familiar blur realities beyond the customary: whether votive candles or cemeteries turned into two-day cities, zapped by karaokes.

In  Itaga Mo Sa Bato, Dr. Lino Pantoja Jr. writes  of  the central  reality  beyond a handful of ashes.“We Filipinos use the idiom itaga mo sa bato to assert our utmost confidence,” this pastor writes.  “Job’s exact words were: ‘Oh, that my words were engraved in rock forever. I know that my Redeemer lives. And in the end, He will stand forth upon the earth. And after my skin shall have been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”

These words were written 2,500 years before Easter’s empty tomb. “It is a good and wholesome thought to pray for the dead,” declares the Book of Macabees, from that period. And over 1,500 years later, Handel worked it into his soaring oratorio.

Liturgy spotlights this reality: “For unto your faithful, O Lord, life is changed, not taken away”, says the Eucharist’s preface:. The theme resonates wherever religious or laymen read the Liturgy of the Hours.

Few now hear the ancient Gregorian chant: Dies Irae (“Day of Wrath”). Tuba mirum spargen sonum / Per sepulchra regionum / Coget omnes ante thronum. My Latin  101  translates that to: “Trumpets blare through sepulchers, calling all to appear before the judgment throne.”

Above all, there’s the universal aching for assurance of what lies beyond the grave. “If only I could see him, for just a second, and know he’s all right, I’d be able to cope,” Seamus tells the priest blessing his son’s crumpled body, killed in an accident.

“I remembered Seamus’ comment” at a Mass for a student accident victim, writes theologian Catalino Arevalo. “We’d all love to know that those who’ve gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, are at peace”. Classmates chose the Transfiguration for Mass  reading. “The one abut Jesus going up to the mountain and changing into dazzling white.

“It struck me, for the first time, that Jesus allowed his friends to see, ‘for just a second’, what was beyond.,” Arevalo recalls. “ Their reaction was strange. They did not want to leave the spot. It’s ‘wonderful for us to be here.’ But Jesus reminded them they had to go down the mountain.

“What if we could get some vision, ‘for only just a second’, or if we could ‘for only just a second’, see people who’ve gone before us, in faith, especially those suddenly or tragically taken, in that place of light that is God’s promise?

“What if we, too, had some authentic extended experience of what ‘our eyes have not seen, nor our ears heard. What God prepared for those who are faithful?’”

“It is truly the better thing that an authentic extended experience is not given us — because we would not want to leave the spot. Better still because there is still so much of the humdrum, the frustrating, the difficult for us to endure, if possible with courage, to build some small beginnings of the Kingdom which Jesus wanted to make our work in this world.”

Whether in the dim catacombs off Rome ’s Appian way , or in our garishly lighted cemeteries, “All Souls’  Day  2012  speaks to us again  in Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s poignant verse: “Death is not the extinguishing of life. It is putting out the lamp, because dawn has come.”

( Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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