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Here’s the True Meaning of ‘Undas,’ According to Pope Francis

Pope Francis says these two days are a time of hope.

For Catholics all over the world, the month of November means one thing—or two things, rather: The solemnity of All Saints’ Day on November 1 and the commemoration of the dead on All Souls’ Day on November 2.

“These are days of hope,” Pope Francis once said during a homily at a Mass held at the famous Verano cemetery in Rome. “On the day of the saints and on the day of the dead, it is necessary to think a little about the hope that accompanies us in life,” he told the crowd. (Read: Manila Cathedral Holds Blessing of Cremated Remains Until November 8)

“The early Christians depicted hope with an anchor, as if life were the anchor thrown onto the shore of heaven and all of us walked toward the shore, clinging to the anchor’s rope,”
Lolo Kiko explained. “This is a beautiful image of hope: to have the heart anchored where our ancestors are, where the saints are, where Jesus is, where God is.”

For the Santo Papa, the two significant days are united, making up “hope that does not disappoint.”

Origins of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day

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The Saints and Mary The Maesta by Duccio di Buoninsegna (14th century) is preserved in the Museum of the Opera of the Cathedral of Siena. (Photo from Vatican Media)

All Saints’ Day is a feast of precept or holy day of obligation in Italy, and the faithful are supposed to attend Mass. The honor and glory of all the saints are celebrated on this day (Read: List: Official Holidays for 2021 as Announced by Malacañang)

This is in deference to the Christian creed of the “Communion of Saints” that Pope Paul VI in the Credo of the People of God defined as “the communion of all the faithful of Christ, of those who are pilgrims on this earth, of the dead who carry out their purification and the blessed in heaven: all together they form one Church: we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always (attentive) to our prayers.”

From Feast of Martyrs to Feast of Saints

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(Left to right) Pope Boniface VI, Pope Gregory III, and Pope Gregory IV (Photos from Wikipedia)

The origins of the celebration date back to the fourth century (the first traces of it point to Antioch), when the Church celebrated the memory of the martyrs of the faith on May 13. (Read: All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, & Halloween: What’s Their Difference?)

In 610, Pope Boniface VI officialized the Feast of all the Martyrs, and it was Pope Gregory III who chose November 1 (according to some experts, this was to “Christianize” the pagan Celtic New Year that fell on the early days of November).

Later, at the request of Pope Gregory IV, the king of the Franks, Louis the Pious, decreed a feast of precept, which was the Feast of all Martyrs and which became the Feast of All Saints. It is thanks to this name that today, it is also celebrated as the name day of all the people whose names do not appear in the Christian calendar.

From Peace Offering to All Souls’ Day

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(November 1, 2013) Pope Francis offered flowers at Campo di Verano cemetery in Rome on All Saints’ day. (Right) One of the most popular sweets that Italians prepare for November 1 and 2 is called fave dei morti, or beans of the dead. (Photo from Vatican Media and passatelliescialatielli.it)

Meanwhile, the origins of the feast of the dead or All Souls’ Day date back to antiquity—more precisely to the beginning of the 10th century. In that period in a convent in Cluny, France, lived a Benedictine abbot called Odilone, who was canonized by Pope Clement VI in 1345.

According to tales, Odilone landed on the coast of Sicily and sought refuge in a cave. Upon leaving it, he met a hermit who said he could hear the cries of the soul in Purgatory, who were being purified of their sins as the monk walked out of the cave. (Read: Q&A Halloween Special: ‘My family won’t allow me to visit Lolo’s grave’)

Upon learning this, Odilone ordered his monks to have the bells of the abbey ring with funeral tolls after the celebration of vespers on November 1, the day of the saints, to commemorate the dead.

The following day, November 2, the Eucharist became a peace offering for the dead. The rite was later extended to the whole Catholic Church. And to this day, it has become a customary practice for Catholics to go to the cemetery and bring flowers to the graves of loved ones.

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