So How is All Saints Day (Nov. 1) related to All Souls Day (Nov. 2) ?

As the Western Church spread into northern Europe, it encountered pagan festivals held in late autumn to appease the evil spirits associated with the first killing frosts and the coming of winter, darkness and death.

The Catholic Church had a long-standing policy of incorporating non-Christian traditions into its holidays in order to bring people into the Catholic faith.

In any case, when All Saints’ Day moved to November 1, the church did begin to incorporate supernatural traditions into the holy day’s activities, ideas that don’t have much of a place in Christianity.

Many supernatural ideas persisted in All Saints’ Day Eve celebrations, making the occasion a remarkable combination of Christian and pagan beliefs. At the end of the 10th century, the church tried to give these traditions a little more direction by establishing All Souls’ Day, an occasion to recognize all Christian dead.

Thus, All Souls began with the emphasis on remembering those who had died, broader than just the martyrs. In addition it was cast wide into Catholic theology. In that tradition , the church commemorated all of those who have died and now are in Purgatory, being cleansed of their venial (forgiven) sins and the temporal punishments for the mortal sins that they had confessed and atoning before entering fully into Heaven.

The importance of All Souls Day was made clear by Pope Benedict XV (1914-22), when he granted all priests the privilege of celebrating three Masses on All Souls Day: one, for the faithful departed; one for the priest’s intentions; and one for the intentions of the Holy Father. Only on a handful of other very important feast days are priests allowed to celebrate more than two Masses.

All Souls originally was celebrated in the Easter season, around Pentecost Sunday (and still is in the Eastern Catholic Churches). By the tenth century, the celebration had been moved to October; and sometime between 998 and 1030, St. Odilo of Cluny decreed that it should be celebrated on November 2 in all of the monasteries of his Benedictine congregation. Over the next two centuries, other Benedictines and the Carthusians began to celebrate it in their monasteries as well, and soon it spread to the entire Church.

All Souls is celebrated with Masses and festivities in honor of the dead. The living pray on behalf of Christians who are in purgatory, the state in the afterlife where souls are purified before proceeding to heaven. Souls in purgatory, who are members of the church just like living Christians, must suffer so that they can be purged of their sins. Through prayer and good works, living members of the church may help their departed friends and family. There are two plenary indulgences ( full remission of the punishment due to sin ) attached to All Souls Day, one for visiting a church and another for visiting a cemetery.

Soul Cake!

In medieval times, one popular All Souls’ Day practice was to make “soul cakes,” simple bread desserts with a currant topping. In a custom called “souling,” children would go door-to-door begging for the cakes, much like modern trick-or- treaters. After its introduction, this holiday did sate many Catholics’ interest in death and the supernatural.

Here is a recipe for Soul Cake

There is a traditional song that accompanies soul cakes:

1. In 2009, Sting put out an album “If On a Winter’s Night”. It had a rendition of “Soul Cake”. This is a live version in England’s Durham Cathedral.

Here are the lyrics

2. Earlier in 1965 Peter Paul and Mary did “A Soalin”


But the unchristian idea of wandering spirits persisted in some areas, Conceding that they could not completely get rid of the supernatural elements of the celebrations, the Catholic Church began characterizing the spirits as evil forces associated with the devil. This is where we get a lot of the more disturbing Halloween imagery, such as evil witches and demons.

Scroll to Top