A consequence of the decision of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in 2001 to reduce the number of Holy Days of Obligation to Christmas Day and the Assumption (August 15) is that the great feasts of All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) are rapidly disappearing from the consciousness even of practising Catholics.
It is a tragedy that All Saints Day is less recognised than Halloween, now a secular celebration of what was once the day before All Hallows (Saints) Day.
While the Bishops' decision was made because of the difficulties for many Catholics of attending Mass on these working days, its consequences have included a further erosion in the liturgical life of the Church, and diminished awareness of the Communion of Saints, the doctrine which teaches that believers on earth are united in a spiritual fellowship with the saints in Heaven (see article on pages 12-13) and the souls in Purgatory (see Bishop Elliott's article on page 20).
The feasts of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, when we are encouraged to offer Masses and prayers for our deceased family members and relatives, were the living expression of a doctrine which stretched back to the earliest era of Christianity, and which is embodied in the Apostles' Creed.
The origin of All Saints Day is to be found in the prayers made to the martyr saints of the persecuted Church in the early centuries.
All Souls Day reflects the constant teaching of the Church, stretching back into the Old Testament period where it is recorded in the Book of Machabees, 'It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.'
These beautiful feast days are both a source of inspiration and a consolation that we, in the world of strife and confusion, can aspire to be reunited with our families and friends in the joyful perfection of Heaven. The effort of attending Mass on these days will be rewarded a hundred-fold.
Peter Westmore is publisher of AD2000.