THE DOGMA OF THE ASSUMPTION PROCLAIMED 71 YEARS AGO TODAY .Seventy-one years ago today, November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII issued the Apostolic Constitution, “Munificentissimus Deus” that defined the dogma of the Assumption that proclaims that the Virgin Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
LIFE IN ITALY: THE FEASTS OF ALL SAINTS AND ALL SOULS
There is an almost unreal silence outside today because it is November 1, All Saints Day, a big holiday in Italy and the Vatican. The Vatican also observes November 2 – All Souls Day – as a day off, a day that used to be an Italian holiday but has been removed from the calendar of public holidays. Not that that makes much difference to Italians who use any excuse to create what they call a “ponte,” a bridge to an extra long weekend. Thus, given that today, Monday, is a holiday, most Italians probably had a three day weekend.
Today at noon, as he usually does on Sundays and solemnities, Pope Francis recited the Angelus with the faithful and tourists gathered in cloud-covered St. Peter’s Square. He began by noting, “Today we celebrate All Saints, and in the Liturgy the ‘programmatic’ message of Jesus resounds: namely, the Beatitudes. They show us the path that leads to the Kingdom of God and to happiness: the path of humility, compassion, meekness, justice and peace. To be a saint is to walk on this road.”
The angelic artist, Fra’ Angelico’s, Feast of All Saints
The Pope then commented on one aspect of a saintly life, joy: “Jesus begins with the word “Blessed”. It is the principal proclamation, that of an unprecedented happiness. Beatitude, holiness, is not a life plan made up only of effort and renunciation, but is above all the joyful discovery of being God’s beloved sons and daughters. And this fills you with joy. It is not a human achievement, it is a gift we receive: we are holy because God, who is the Holy One, comes to dwell in our lives. It is He who gives holiness to us. For this we are blessed!”
He then explained a second aspect, prophecy: “The Beatitudes are addressed to the poor, the afflicted, those who hunger for justice. It is a message that goes against the grain. Indeed, the world says that in order to have happiness you must be rich, powerful, always young and strong, and enjoy fame and success. Jesus overturns these criteria and makes a prophetic proclamation – and this is the prophetic dimension of holiness – the true fullness of life is achieved by following Jesus, by putting His Word into practice.”
The Holy Father told the pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, that tomorrow morning, November 2, All Souls Day, “I will go to the French Military Cemetery in Rome. It will be an opportunity to pray for the eternal repose of all the deceased, especially for the victims of war and violence. In visiting this cemetery, I join spiritually with all those who during these days go to pray at the tombs of their loved ones, in every part of the world.”
It has been tradition at the Vatican for Popes on November 1 to celebrate Holy Mass for the Solemnity of All Saints at a Rome cemetery, for many years Campo Verano, and, on the following day, November 2, to lead a prayer service in the Vatican Grottoes for all deceased Popes. Francis has changed the tradition a bit in recent year and has visited various Rome cemeteries.
This year, on Thursday, November 4, at 11 am in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Altar of the Chair, he will celebrate Mass for the repose of the souls of those bishops and cardinals who died in the course of the year.
November 1 – the feast of All Saints – is such an important day for Italians that newspapers – and now social media and websites – publish special inserts on how to get to a city’s cemeteries, where to park cars, what shuttle buses are available within cemeteries, etc. Cemetery hours – usually longer in the October 29 to November 5 “remembrance” period – are posted, as are the hours and routes of the “C” busses (“C” for cimitero or cemetery).
In Rome there are 12 cemeteries and each one has special rules and regulations and opening hours. The larger ones will also have free shuttles buses (because no cars will be allowed) to take people to the graves of loved ones. In Rome’s largest cemetery, Verano, 16 stops have been programmed for these buses.
About one million people visit Rome’s cemeteries in the annual weeklong period dedicated to the deceased. The city always make a concerted effort at this time of year to clean cemeteries of trash, to repair walkways and even headstones and to do some serious gardening. Visitors too will clean tombs, bring fresh flowers and entire families will meet to mourn their dearly departed as well as to celebrate their lives.
Afterwards family members will usually all go out for lunch or dinner, sometimes even taking a picnic lunch along to eat at cemeteries where it is allowed as this is what the very first Christians did when they gathered at burial grounds or in the catacombs.
Just about any Italian tradition seems to be linked to food, as you will see!
Thelocal.it, an online publication in English, annually publishes interesting stories on how Italians mark All Saints and All Souls in different regions:
“In Sicily, children hunt for treats left by loving relatives no longer around. In northern Italy people leave their homes empty in case the dead want to visit. All over the country, Italians set an empty place at the table for people who no longer sit there.
“Some believe that the spirits of those departed return to earth on this day. To welcome them, one common Italian tradition was to set an extra place at the table or even put out a tray of food for invisible visitors.
“In Sicily, those who return bring something with them. Children who’ve been good and remembered dead relatives in their prayers all year long are rewarded with gifts of toys and sweets, sometimes hidden around the house on the morning of November 2nd.
“Elsewhere it’s customary for the living to give gifts. In Sardinia children go from house to house on All Souls’ Day collecting treats of cakes, nuts and dried fruit in exchange for a prayer for the deceased. And in Emilia Romagna the poor are entitled to “carità di murt”: charity in the name of the dead, in the form of donated food or money.
“Each region has its own variation on dolci dei morti, sweets of the dead, treats meant to sweeten the bitterness of death. Usually simple white biscuits, they’re typically baked in the form of a bone as an edible memento mori.
“Another variation is fave dei morti, beans of the dead, small ground almond cakes in the shape of a bean. They’re sometimes given as gifts between lovers on All Souls’ Day – either as a comfort or a pledge to be faithful “’til death do us part”.
“A more savoury tradition is a special stuffed bread seasoned with chilli, which some southern Italians would take to be blessed at All Souls’ Day mass before eating it. The spicy filling was supposed to allow whoever ate it to take on burning punishment on behalf of souls suffering in purgatory, thereby offering them some relief.”
One Rome paper a few years back even published a survey on the cost of funerals, saying “there is some meager consolation for those in mourning in the capital of Rome because a funeral there costs the least” of all cities questioned for the survey. On the average they can run from $2,500 to $8,000 in Rome. These prices usually include a walnut coffin with zinc interior, flowers, the burial and documents.
However, says the paper, the best bargain is still a funeral paid for by the city, with Turin being the best buy at 660 Euro or $844, and Genoa being the costliest at 2,000 Euro or $2,560. I’ve not been able to find updates for those prices but am guessing they have changed since I first saw them about three years ago.
Prices for flowers greatly increase at this time of year and I learned a hard lesson my first year in Rome.
It was the very end of October and I went to a private clinic to visit a friend who had just had serious surgery. I wanted to bring Lina an impressive bouquet of flowers to cheer her up but my budget did not allow for “impressive.” So I did the best I could. I bought about 8 or 10 chrysanthemums – being bigger flowers, they seemed more impressive as a bouquet. Surely just the thing to bring a smile to Lina’s face!
Well, I knew the minute I walked into the room that something was wrong. I saw a strange look on Lina’s face (and also on the face of a cousin visiting her, a priest), but never for a minute did I associate it with the flowers. We chatted and visited and faces seemed to brighten up, so I dismissed the first impression I had received that something was wrong.
Only much later did I learn that chrysanthemums are viewed by Italians as the flower of the dead and are the flowers that most people bring to place on the graves of their loved ones! Fortunately for me, Lina and Fr. John were wonderful, understanding friends who gently, some time later, told me what bringing chrysanthemums to someone in the hospital just days before the feast of All Saints is just not done! (Actually they seem to frown on flowers in hospitals at other times of the year as well.)
Like other hard-learned lessons in Italy, this was one mistake I never repeated.
Today, but especially tomorrow, Italians visit cemeteries in huge numbers, cleaning the graves of their loved ones and bringing votive candles as well as armloads of flowers, especially chrysanthemums. The price of flowers can rise steeply twice a year – on November 1 and 2 and on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
On that day in Rome people bring flowers to the Piazza di Spagna, Rome’s celebrated Spanish Steps, placing them at the base of the column with the statue of Mary or on a table near the column. The loose flowers are then woven by priests and brothers into large bouquets or wreaths and placed near or on the column.