All Souls Saturdays – An Eastern Christian Tradition
“With the souls of the just brought to perfection, give rest O Savior, to the souls of your servants;
keeping them for the blessed life with you, for you love us all.”
Eastern churches (both Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox) set aside five Saturdays per year, called All Souls Saturdays, to commemorate and pray for departed souls – our deceased loved ones. The reservation of these five days as part of the liturgical calendar of Eastern Churches differs from the liturgical traditions of the Roman Catholic church, which remembers the deceased on All Souls Day and All Saints Day in November.
In Eastern churches, it is customary to pray for the dead throughout the year during Divine Liturgies. We pray for the dead during Liturgy when the words are spoken in petition immediately after the Consecration of the Eucharist: “Remember, O Lord, all those who have departed in the hope of resurrection …” All Saturdays are likewise dedicated to prayer for the deceased. But on All Souls Saturdays, the Divine Liturgy has an additional emphasis in remembering the deceased faithful. The Gospel readings on these All Souls Saturdays and Sundays following correspond with our need for having a greater understanding of mercy, repentance, forgiveness of sin and last judgment.
Immediately following each All Souls Saturday Liturgy, a short closing service called a “Panachida” is held. During the service, the names of deceased faithful are presented before God as they are recited aloud by the priest. The Panachida is a short, beautiful prayer service using a specific liturgical chant reserved for memorializing departed souls.
As Catholics, we are united with the Risen Christ.
We are members of the Body of Christ, the Church,
and we share in our relationship as a family of believers, all members of the church, both living and deceased.
In death, our deceased loved ones are still members of our church family, the community of saints,
and we continue to pray for them as well as asking for their prayers for us.
A Pre-Lenten period precedes the first All Souls Saturday. There is a set pattern of gospel readings in this preparatory time for Lent, and the sequence is always the same. The Sunday of Zaccheus (Lk. 19.1-10) is the first sign that Lent is not far away. It is followed by the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee (theme of humility), and the Sunday of the Prodigal Son (theme of repentance and forgiveness). The following Saturday is the First All Souls Saturday. It is easy to see how the lessons in these preparatory gospels serve as an introduction to what comes next in the liturgical calendar. The juxtaposition of the All Souls Saturdays clustered at this time before and during Lent is the way the church points us to strive for what is lasting and eternal rather than what attracts us in earthly treasure. On the Sunday immediately after this first All Souls, we hear in the gospel reading about the Final Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). In this Jesus describes how all will be judged, especially on our relationships with others in service and seeing Christ in those around us. In the First All Souls remembrance, we have an opportunity to pray for the deceased asking God to be merciful to them also.
The Second, Third, and Fourth All Souls Saturdays are all during Lent, known in Eastern Churches as the Great Fast. We are reminded of our own mortality and our need for repentance. We also are encouraged during Lent to perform charitable acts. Since praying for the dead is one of the spiritual acts of mercy, it is honorable to set aside additional time for praying for those who have preceded us.
The Fifth All Souls Saturday is the Saturday before Pentecost. At Pentecost we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit. We pray for the deceased in seeking the same graces of the Holy Spirit for them, that all are saved as Jesus promises.
“Blessed are they whom You have chosen and received, O Lord; they are remembered from generation to generation.”
Verse from Liturgy for Faithful Departed.