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All Souls Day is a holiday set aside to honor the dead, observed differently by different Christian denominations. It’s an important day for Catholics, but because it follows Halloween and All Saints Day, it’s often overshadowed. All Souls Day is unusual among feast days because it’s one of only a handful in which priests can celebrate more than two Masses. Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) granted priests the privilege of celebrating three Masses on All Souls’ Day, underscoring the day’s importance.

Why is this such an important day for the church, and what’s the significance of three Masses? Not all priests subscribe to the idea of three Masses, but for the ones who do, there’s a Mass for the faithful departed, one for the priest’s intentions, and one for the intentions of the Holy Father. The purpose of Mass on All Souls’ Day is to pray for those who have departed. All Souls’ Day was originally celebrated at the Easter season, typically observed around Pentecost Sunday, but that changed in the thirteenth century when it began to be paired with All Saints Day and was moved to November 2nd.

All Saints Day and All Souls’ Day are related, but they have different meanings. On All Saints’ Day, we celebrate the Saints, remembering and reflecting on how we’re supposed to live our lives. On All Souls’ Day, we remember the faithful departed, but we also pray for souls and their release from Purgatory. It’s a fitting way to begin November, which has been designated the Holy Month of Souls in Purgatory.

Praying for souls in Purgatory is as a Christian obligation designated by Holy Mother Church. Many in our modern culture doubt the Church’s teaching on Purgatory, which only increases the need for prayers. There are two plenary indulgences attached to All Souls’ Day. Plenary indulgences are gained on behalf of a person who has died, in order to make atonement for the punishment the person is experiencing in purgatory and allowing the soul to proceed to heaven. A person seeking an indulgence must be in a state of grace, baptized and not excommunicated, and must perform particular works. On All Souls’ Day, the two plenary indulgences require:

  • Visiting a church: To obtain a plenary indulgence you must visit a church, recite one Our Father and the Creed, receive Communion, and pray one additional Our Father and one Hail Mary for the intentions of the Holy Father.
  • Visiting a cemetery: The indulgence is obtained by visiting a cemetery and praying for the dead. However, many people also use this as an opportunity to tend or decorate the grave sites of loved ones, light candles, and perform other small services to honor those who have died.

We at Catholic Cemeteries of the Diocese of San Jose would like to extend an invitation for you to come and visit one of our properties on All Souls’ Day this year. All are welcome to visit our beautiful, peaceful, hope-filled cemeteries, located in Los Altos, East San Jose, and Milpitas. We will also host a Mass at Gate of Heaven 8:30 AM (Vietnamese) and 11 AM (English), Calvary at 11 AM (English, Spanish, Portuguese) and 2 PM (Vietnamese). Call or browse our website for more information.

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