QUAERITUR: candle ceremony during All Souls Mass

From a reader:

Our parish has a long standing tradition of remembering the souls of parishioners and/or family members who passed away during the last calendar year.  During the All Souls Day Mass family members of the deceased process one by one with a candle as the name of their deceased loved one is read.  The candles are then placed on the side altars.  While I am thrilled that we use the Feast of All Souls to actually remember and pray for the deceased, the procession and recitation of the names is quite lengthy and seems like something added to the liturgy for purely sentimental reasons.  I was reminded of this practice recently as the announcement in the bulletin for participating in the service once again appeared.  I am wondering if this practice is common in other parishes.

I think it is wonderful to remember the dead and then to pray for them.  Too often, funerals are canonization ceremonies after which few remember to pray or gain indulgences for the deceased.

But what you describe is not part of the Mass.  This is something well-intentioned, but not part of the Mass.

In my opinion, it would be better to do this before Mass begins.

Things like this should never be allowed to start (during Mass, at least).  It is at times hard to stop abuses, especially those which are loaded with sentimentality.  In this case, however, they could keep the custom by doing it before Mass.

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  1. Mike says:

    Our new pastor started this last year. I don’t remember when in relation to the Mass it was held. I don’t like it. It’s too sentimental. I know people’s grief is real; but so is the Mass, Our Lord, his Holy Mother, and the angels and saints.

  2. david andrew says:

    We do something similar at the parish where I serve as Music Director. At the conclusion of Mass for All Souls Day there is a procession to the four corners of the church to stations that include a candle. A psalm is chanted and prayers are recited in Polish or English, for the repose of the souls of those who died the previous year at each station, and a Polish hymn that recalls Christ’s mercy is sung between each station.

    Mass that day features a catafalque set up in the center aisle, and before Mass begins the names of those who died the previous 12 months are read and members of the families bring a votive candle forward and set it in a rack in front of the Sacred Heart altar.

    I’m told that this is a hoary tradition for the Polish.

  3. teaguytom says:

    I remember this was done at my old parish for All Soul’s day as well, but I used to think it was a part of the liturgy. :( Guess another fly by the seat of your pants addition.

  4. mibethda says:

    The old custom of offering a Requiem Mass – when otherwise allowed – three, seven and thirty days after the death or funeral and on the anniversary was a most excellent way to remember and to gain indulgences for the dead. Other than in some religious communities which follow the EF, I doubt that the practice is followed today.

  5. I agree with you, Fr. Z.
    Let the Church’s Sacred Liturgy be Her Sacred Liturgy.
    Other forms of devotion should be outside of Mass.

  6. Johnsum says:

    Yesterday, the Introductory prayer of Sunday Mass was replaced by another prayer so that the Bishop’s appeal for funds might be really generous. I am still scratching my head about this. The pastor asked everyone to read the prayer from a slick promotion mailing package together. I am pretty sure that was not kosher. The pastor is a good man. Did the Bishop ask him to do it? I do not know. Next Sunday, there will be an after Mass healing service. Lay members of the parish and the priest will pray over, put their hands on the head of those who wish healing. What can they accomplish that was not available to the afflicted at the Mass just ended?

  7. pattif says:

    Made-up additions to the liturgy always make me squirm. It seems that we are saying that the graces flowing from the Mass are not sufficient, and it needs to be helped along a bit by our own efforts. It feels very Pelagian.

  8. dad29 says:

    A before (or after-) Mass procession like that would also be an excellent time for the singing of the Dies Irae, now that it is discouraged as the pre-Gospel Sequence.

  9. jswr says:

    Have to respectfully disagree. Sort of. The lighting of candles during All Souls is of some antiquity. The Hearse, also used in Tenebrae, was a platform for candles, or for a casket, and could be both if the catafalque was used. Not uncommon for the lighting of candles to take place (silently) during the Sequence. Admittedly, reading of every single name and multiple INDIVIDUAL processions sounds a bit contrived, but the two components separately do not. Recording of intentions in a book, or the reading of names extraliturgically (before or after Mass, or at the announcements) would not be problematic.

  10. jswr: Okay. You made an argument. Now please point to the place in the Roman Missal for All Souls which describes the candle thing.

  11. Re: reading of names

    Putting this during Mass – in the Latin Rite – is problematic. But it should be noted that many Eastern Rites historically did read out every name of every person from the parish who’d died in the previous year (in good standing with the Church) every Sunday (assuming I recall this correctly). I think Fr. Z talked about this once, and how they had a book of all the names? So it’s not what you do so much as how and when you do it. (Of course, this was part of why Coptic Masses used to last four hours long or whatever….)

    Having the grieving people process, before or after Mass, with lit candles, with or without names of the dead being read — that sounds lovely.

  12. “Problematic” being taken to mean “Why would you violate the rubrics when you can do it another way and not violate the rubrics? Sheesh, you’re sure taking a lot of trouble to create a problem.”

  13. Urget_nos says:

    From the FSSP 2010 Ordo “At Mass today (All Souls), the faithful may hold lit candles during the Gospel, again from the Sanctus through the end of the Canon, and again for the Absolution after Mass.” I asked an FSSP priest about it and he said that he had never seen it done. Can anyone shed any light on this practice??

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