When I was growing up, very little attention was paid in my house on the teaching of Purgatory. In fact, rarely did we ever pause to give thought to the Holy Souls of Purgatory. While we stayed inside watching fun movies on Halloween, rather than trick-or-treating, and we would sometimes attend Mass on All Saints' Day, we didn’t make it a habit to offer any extra attention for the souls of the faithful departed throughout the month of November.
As I reverted to the Catholic Church a few years ago, I fell in love with the month of November. The first two days of November are always action packed, but the entire month is pretty powerful when we take some time to consider the Church’s devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
The first of November, a Holy Day of Obligation in most dioceses throughout the United States, is the celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints. During that day, we take a moment to recognize every single soul who has paved the way before us, and modeled virtues which will lead us as close to God as our souls can get.
The second of November is no less important, although it is not a Holy Day of Obligation. That day is known as the Feast of All Souls. It is a great day to commemorate those who have gone before us, focusing especially on those who are undergoing their final purification so that they are able to embrace our Lord in Heaven. It’s a beautiful reminder to pray for those who the Church routinely teaches are unable to pray for themselves.
A couple years ago, about a week prior to All Souls’ Day, I was told that the lady in charge of running our women’s faith group meetings would be unable to attend the previously scheduled regular meeting. Therefore, I was left to consider the theme for the month, and while I thought about it, I decided to create a craft. However, I struggled to identify a solid craft that could be done at the last minute, without being too cheesy. So I turned to Pinterest. Pinterest had a lot of craft ideas, but most of them were too intense for someone who has a self-proclaimed allergy to crafts. And, most of them required more supplies than I had access to at that last moment.
Right before I gave up my search, and gave in to the realization that we would just unfortunately be meeting and talking at that particular meeting, I stumbled on an idea that I was able to morph into what has become one of my most meaningful ways of teaching about the Holy Souls of Purgatory. And, as I realized last year, when my then-five-year-old helped decorate his own, it is a pretty amazing idea to help teach little ones about the importance of prayer for the dead, too.
Introducing an All Souls Home Prayer Candle.
The first year I did this activity, I used small votive candles with Sharpie. The second year, I had advanced time to locate the tall prayer candles, but still used Sharpie. Both years, I used decals and stickers that were found at local craft aisles at whichever store I happened to be shopping. And, both years, the time spent decorating the candles was personal and loving.
Supplies needed: candle with a clear holder (feel free to take the sticker from a Yankee Candle off the glass), Sharpies or permanent marker, stickers or decals (optional).
1. Purchase a candle -- be it votive or tall prayer candle, wicker candle or battery-powered. The important thing is that the candle sits in something glass.
2. Make sure to have Sharpies. You can have many different colors, or have just one. Sharpies, I have found, typically do not rub off the glass, and are something I can easily use year 'round.
3. If you desire, add inspirational stickers, beads, and other things to make your candle pretty.
4. Write the names of any and all of the faithful departed that you have known on the candle.
5. Light the candle for prayer, routinely remembering to pray for the individuals who grace the sides of the candle.
If you use a small votive candle, it may not last the entire year. If you decide to use the taller candles, you may not need to recreate the candle until next November.
I found doing this in a group could be pretty cathartic. A group setting gave those needing some extra support a space where they could share fond memories of their loved ones. A group setting also allowed others to sit quietly, contemplating and praying over each name they were writing around the glass. It brought out the crafty side of some individuals, and allowed those like yours truly to leave the glass relatively undecorated.
My son doesn’t know too many individuals who have died, so last year, as he struggled to adjust to a new school and new routine, he opted to have the names of his best friends in the world around his candle. Throughout the year, he would then ask to light his “Friend Candle,” and would pray for his friends when he was feeling a need to be close to them in prayer.
This year, I don’t have a group to decorate with, but my son is older. He has heard enough in Mass to know we pray for the faithful departed who have gone before us. So, I will have him participate in helping me add names to my tall votive candle. He will hear some stories of the memories I have of individuals who passed away decades before I had even met my husband, let alone before my son was even planned in my mind’s eye. My son will be reminded of the great-grandparents of his who no doubt look down on him as he is just beginning to make his way in the world.
And, while he still struggles with missing his bosom friends from the last two places he has lived, he will be creating a new “Friend Candle” for himself. He will be given the task of writing the names himself this year, and the rest of the decoration of his candle will be left up to his eye and inclination. Using these candles to guide our thoughts and prayers, we will call to mind our friends and family far from us … but never forgotten.
Do you have a simple craft or way you commemorate loved ones with your little ones? Do you have a special activity you like to do to honor and pray for the Holy Souls of Purgatory?
Copyright 2018 AnnAliese Harry
About the Author
AnnAliese Harry is a proud Army wife to her husband Chris, and a mother to their young children. She has a BA in History, a Masters in Social Work, and has worked with disabled veterans, troubled teens, and in early childhood intervention therapy. AnnAliese volunteers with several military chapel communities and serves as a lector, EMHC, Adoration coordinator, and Catholic Women of the Chapel (CWOC) chapter president and vice president. She blogs about Catholicism, parenting, and military life at A Beautiful, Camouflaged Mess of A Life. Follow her on Twitter, on Instagram, or on Facebook.