It’s one of the church’s oldest traditions: Catholics take their obligation to pray for the dead seriously.

All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls’ Day on Nov. 2 form an annual duo for remembering those who have gone before us. The saints are those who have made it to God’s eternal presence — heaven. The souls are the people who are still in a cleansing process that is necessary before coming face to face with God.

We on earth don’t know who is in what state, aside from those the church declares saints with a high degree of confidence.

“We pray to saints to ask for their intercession. We pray for all souls to help speed their journey to God,” said Msgr. Gerard O’Connor, a theologian who directs the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese of Portland.

All Saints’ Day has its roots in A.D. 609 when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome mentioning all Christian martyrs as patrons.

All Saints’ Day is a solemnity and a Catholic holy day of obligation, meaning all Catholics are required to attend Mass on that day.

All Souls’ Day is unique on the church calendar. Though not a holy day of obligation, it is the only liturgical celebration called a commemoration. The official name is Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed and it “acts like a solemnity,” Msgr. O’Connor said.

“When it comes to precedence, All Souls’ is in the top bracket,” he explained. If it falls on a Sunday, it even preempts the Sunday readings, a rare thing.

“This shows us how important it is for Catholics to remember the church suffering,” Msgr. O’Connor said. “It’s good to pray for the poor souls in purgatory. We look to our dead and we pray we will be reunited with them one day.”

There is scriptural basis for purgatory. “Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. ... Thus made atonement for the dead that they might be free from sin,” says 2 Maccabees.

It’s also the only day, except for Christmas, when priests are allowed to say three Masses without special permission.

Halloween once was celebrated as the eve of All Saints’ Day but has lost its sacred identity.

Some countries, including in Latin America, call All Souls’ Day the Day of the Dead and spend it visiting the graves of ancestors who have died. Some cultures leave candles at the graves on All Souls’ Day.

Some parishes hold candlelight processions to cemeteries on the evening of All Souls’ Day. In western Oregon, Catholic cemeteries host All Souls’ Day Masses. This year, they will be held at 10 a.m. at Mount Calvary in Southwest Portland and 10 a.m. at Gethsemani in Happy Valley.

Prayer requests

In conjunction with the commemoration of All Souls’ Day, the Archdiocese of Portland is launching a new ministry in which the faithful can submit their prayer intentions for Masses offered at the pastoral center.

Archbishop Alexander Sample will be offering a special Mass in November for those who have died and is asking for the faithful to submit names to The email address will remain active indefinitely for people to send their prayer requests. Submissions also can be sent via the archdiocesan website ( by filling out the form on the ‘Prayer Requests’ page.