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A woman lights a candle on the grave of her relative before praying at a cemetery during the observance of All Souls Day in DhakaThere has always been a twinning in my religious tradition of first two days of November. The first is, as we saw yesterday, the celebration of all those people whom the Church has recognized – for various reasons – as worthy of the designation “saint.” In one way, I always thought in my youth that today was more important because we were praying with all our might to get our relatives and friends released from any sinfulness that still clung to them as they left the earth, thereby speeding them on to heaven. It was the only day that priests were allowed to celebrate three Masses in one day and we all spent the day petitioning God to hear our constant prayers for our loved ones.

These days it’s common for people to think of the “faithful departed” closer to us than they used to be when heaven was a faraway place to which we ascended. Now we say things like “the veil is very thin” and we sometimes feel our loved ones very close, praying for us, perhaps, and cheering us on in the everyday. My list of “cheerleaders” gets longer as I get older (as with all of us) and it is a comfort to know that what the Church calls the “great cloud of witnesses” is on my side. So today is now a day not only to pray for those loved ones who have departed this realm but also to pray to them and with them for the good of all.