Commemoration of the Departed Faithful

Our dear departed ones were in fact the nearest witnesses to Jesus’ manifestation, redemptive work and Trinitarian economy of salvation. Thus they follow the Patron of the Church as real examples in our heaven ward pilgrimage. Hence the last Friday of Denha in this tradition is set apart to honour them. Moreover, their remembrance is very significant in view of the Great Fast to follow. The Church intends to induce the faithful in this context to think over the eschatological realities and renew their life through suffering in imitation of the departed ones. The weeks of Great Fast is indeed a time, according to this liturgical tradition, to remember specially the departed ones.

St Paul’s attribution of the epithet saints to ordinary Christians living upon this earth is to be given theological importance. Those who are leading good Christian life and trying their level best to avoid evil and sincerely trusting in God, are aiming at sanctity and therefore can be called saints in the inchoative sense despite their human imperfections. There are some who have been already pronounced saints officially by the Church after their death. This does not mean that all the others in heaven are not saints. All those who enjoy the presence of God after death are saints and they can intercede for us in heaven. Moreover, we must understand that such prolonged and strained canonization process is a later addition in the Church. The acclamation of the community was the important mark of sanctity in the early Church and even today in all Eastern Churches not in active communion with Rome. Therefore today’s Commemoration of the Departed Faithful induces us to pray for the repose of the souls of those that need purgation, and to pray to those who are enjoying heavenly bliss for their intercessory help. Thus the Communion of Saints can be understood in the extended meaning of the communion of all the Departed Faithful with those living on earth in the shade of the Grace of God.

In the Latin Church the Commemoration of the Departed Faithful is done on 2nd November, the morrow of the Commemoration of all saints and related to the sanctoral cycle of the Liturgical Year. But in the Oriental Churches this Commemoration is part of the Mystery of Christ and thus of the temporary cycle of the Liturgical Year. Those who do not understand the spirit of the Liturgical Year of Oriental Churches and the intended spiritual growth accordingly, may clamour for the fixation of this Commemoration on 2nd November for uniformity in the Church. But they should remember that unity is not uniformity. The Catholic Church is the Communion of Individual or Particular Churches having diverse traditions. This idea has been acknowledged, endorsed and even enunciated by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. No Catholic should think differently. If they think one with the Universal Church, they will understand the logic and reason of the arrangement in the Liturgical Calendars of the Oriental Churches and will agree with the present fixation.

According to the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar the Commemoration of the Departed Faithful is on Friday just before the commencement of the Great Fast (Sauma Ramba) or Lent according to the Latin Church. Sauma Ramba is a period of intense prayer, fasting, penance, almsgiving, reconciliation with others, in short a period of conversion, and meditation on the sufferings and death on the Cross of Our Lord in preparation for the Feast of Resurrection. To remember all the Departed Faithful who are our brethren in Faith before the commencement of the Season of the Great Fast is calculated to remind us of our death and our eternal goal in heaven. This will make us mend our wrong behaviour, which process is called conversion. Friday brings to our mind the suffering and death of Our Lord. Therefore the Friday just before the commencement of the Season of the Great Fast is the apt day to remember the Departed Brethren. Moreover, according to the liturgical spirit of the East Syriac and thus also of the Syro-Malabar tradition, the faithful ought to pay homage to their departed dear ones during the weeks of Great Fast.

The saints in heaven participate in the glory of the Resurrection of Our Lord. Therefore according to the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar the Friday just after the Resurrection Sunday is fixed for them Commemoration of all the saints. Here all the saints mean all those who are in heaven including those who have been officially declared by the Church as saints in order to show them as models for imitation.

Now coming to today’s Biblical readings in the Sacred Eucharistic Liturgy, the first reading prescribed is Ezekiel 37:1-14. This is the description of a vision of the prophet in which he was brought by Yahweh to a valley full of bones. He was asked to prophesy to them. To prophesy here means to speak the word of God. Hearing the prophet the bones turned into human persons forming a big multitude. The prophet was told by Yahweh that this was the symbol of the resuscitation of the Israelite exiles in Babylon who were living without hope and as dead people. Through the prophet Yahweh promised them that they would be brought back to their own homeland from exile.

The vision of prophet Ezekiel here may be applied to each human individual living on this earth as a captive. If the human beings hearken to the word of God and react accordingly on the earth they are sure to rise up with vigour from lethargy and live authentically to achieve the goal in heaven.