Day of the Dead (and of the Living)

Today is All Saints’ Day, as the Catholic Church never tires of reminding us, and is meant to honor all the saints, known and unknown, and, according to Pope Urban IV, to supply any deficiencies in the faithful’s celebration of saints’ feasts during the year. Like a make-up day for saints (now estimated to number between 3,000 to 10,000, no one knows for sure) who, for one reason or another, were not given their due during the year. That’s why it’s All Saints Day.

Tomorrow, November 2 is All Souls Day, the commemoration of all the faithful departed, and if this be a Sunday or a solemnity, like this year, it is moved to November 3. This is the day set aside for prayers and offering masses for all our loved ones who have gone before us.

No matter. For the majority of us, these are mere formalities which are conveniently ignored for the traditional commemoration cum family reunions at the gravesites of our dead relatives and friends today. It makes sense to visit the cemetery right after Halloween, making it a de facto two-day celebration. And a celebration it is, complete with food, flowers and good company, including, we’d like to believe, the otherworldly presence of our dearly departed. This is their day, after all.

This day is as much for those left behind as it is for those who have passed on.

As Randy David observes:

I think this is very Filipino. We take time to remember the dead, but death itself holds little meaning for us as a terminal point. On All Saints’ Day (rather than All Souls’ Day, the next day, which is really their day in the Christian calendar), we visit the dead as if they have come back precisely to commune with us. We gather as families before their graves, bringing food, flowers, candles, and good cheer. We reminisce about the times they were among us. We thank them for their love and waht they have done for us. We ask for their forgiveness and continuing guidance. But , though we may know that where they are is where we ourselves are going, the thought fails to dismay us. We seldom, if at all, think about our won death, and for what it may mean for the way we should live.

Like Prof. David, I often visit the graves of my loved ones, specially my son, wondering how much time I have before I join them, and what else I need to do to complete my life.

And what is a complete life before death comes knocking ?

Rabindranath Tagore has an idea (from “Gitanjali” or “Song Offerings”):

On the day when death will knock at thy door what wilt thou offer
to him?

Oh, I will set before my guest the full vessel of my life–I will
never let him go with empty hands.

All the sweet vintage of all my autumn days and summer nights,
all the earnings and gleanings of my busy life will I place
before him at the close of my days when death will knock at my
door.

O thou the last fulfillment of life, Death, my death, come and
whisper to me!

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