One of my granddaughter’s (aged 7) favourite DVDs is “The Book of Life”, a 2014 musical fantasy adventure comedy about the Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Some Christian reviews are negative—“families that choose to go for it will certainly need to tread carefully and with intentional attention given to discussing the core issues of death and salvation, heaven and hell, and how the Bible’s truth about them differs in so many radical ways. Other reviewers are more kind—“the fun definitely outweighs the iffy parts, and ultimately this is a vibrant, colourful movie about doing the right thing and the importance of family— messages that can be appreciated by both kids and parents.”
The film reminds me of how Filipinos celebrate All Souls’ Day in November. Although our celebration for the dead in the Philippines can incorporate superstitions, rites and rituals not sanctioned by the church, the benefit I got the most for participating was the opportunity to pray for deceased loved ones. The place will be ablaze with thousands of candles.
According to Ann Ball in A Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals, the practice of lighting candles in order to obtain some favour has its origins in the custom of burning lights at the tombs of the martyrs in the catacombs. Vigil lights (from the Latin vigilia) are traditionally accompanied by prayers of attention or waiting. Lighting a candle is a way of extending one’s prayer and showing solidarity with the person on whose behalf the prayer is offered.
After the 9/11 tragedy, lit candles figured prominently in a televised concert affirming the power of goodness over the darkness of evil. (Source: “St. Anthony Messenger” September 2003, Page 26)
Death remains a mystery to all of us, and yet it will come to all of us. Catholics are encouraged to pray for the poor souls. Our Catholic faith teaches that those in purgatory die in the mercy of God; they cannot pray for themselves, thus called “poor” souls. They can no longer merit anything for themselves and rely entirely on others to pray and make sacrifices on their behalf. As they are nevertheless part of the communion of saints, they depend upon us to help ease their suffering and quickly advance them through their purification so that they can join the saints in heaven.
Prayers for the faithful departed please God. It is an act of charity that we can give to those we have known and loved, to our ancestors who gave us life, for those souls whose memory is lost, and for those who have no one else to pray for them. God loves everyone.
An extended family member died recently, sadly and tragically—she took her life. At aged 50, she still had so much to contribute to the world, and we cannot fathom the reason for her decision. As a family, we are still reconciling such gloomy loss. We could only try to navigate the immense pain, the dark night of her soul and black hole that drove her to such heart-rending despair.
The only consolation that truly comforts me is that when she was found, she was wearing the brown scapular I gave her. Our Blessed Mother promises her immense help in times of troubles, especially the point of death.
Condemnation, guilt, anger, denial, blame are not helpful but the assurance of Jesus’ loving mercy is all I can ask for. It is important for me to pray for her, light a candle, so she can experience the promise of eternal life. I am constantly claiming Jesus’ words in John 11:25, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”
A spiritual writer commented that when Jesus arrived at the call of Mary and Martha, they were only waiting for the mere presence of Jesus to bring them comfort. Then He made that illustrious promise and they were doubly consoled. Even after four days in the tomb, when all hope of recovery was gone, Lazarus came forth when Jesus commanded. The raising of Lazarus was a miracle performed as a sign.
We might not have the privilege of seeing Jesus in His human form, but if we trust in His person, we are also assured of His presence and can rest in His promises.
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