Another Triduum? Día de los Muertos, All Saints, All Souls

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by Patricia Steagall

A triduum is a three day period of liturgical observance. The triduum we are most familiar is the Paschal Triduum which begins on Maundy Thursday and culminates in the Great Vigil of Easter.

Interestingly, over the past few years another “triduum” has been evolving within the liturgical practice of the Episcopal Church. This triduum begins (not necessarily a chronological order here!) with a deepening appreciation of the many cultural celebrations that connect us, as human beings, with the remembrance of our ancestors, with our deceased loved ones, and with a sense of lineage and community. And perhaps because so many of us in the “modern” world may feel that we have lost our roots and no longer maintain a sense of connection across generations, there may be a special poignancy in re-entering this space via cultural and spiritual traditions different from our own.

Día de los Muertos, literally, the Day of the Dead, continues to evolve. It is not only a window into Mexican culture, but has become part of the broader religious and spiritual landscape of the United States. Within the Episcopal Church, Día de los Muertos has become something of a cultural bridge. More and more, it is becoming “normal” for Episcopal churches to make space for traditional Mexican altars concurrent with the celebration of All Saints’ Sunday, another way through which we strive to grow in our capacity to live authentically as a welcoming and diverse church.

Within the Anglican liturgical calendar, Día de los Muertos resonates in many ways with All Souls’ Day, which technically would be observed on November 2nd. Fascinating, to me, how these traditions come together in ways both old and new!

Last week, as our Spanish-language community assembled a Día de los Muertos altar at St. Catherine’s (and many of the objects are my own, so now you know that though I got rid of all my Christmas stuff when I moved to the coast, I held on to my Día de los Muertos box!). Anyway, once again I experienced that deep sense of community, the telling of stories across generations, letting the altar come together as a statement of life, and yes, faith – faith that we are remembered by those who come after us, faith that we are connected, faith that we are alive!

During the homily, I invited the community to go deeper. What is the source of that deep connection we experience as we create our altar? As we may visit cemeteries and clean the graves? (Or mourn the fact that we are too far away from our communities of origin to be able to do this?)

And that is where “holy Triduum” comes in. The “source” is Christ, Eucharist, Resurrection! The colors and flowers, the photos, the food… the moment we take those altars and place them in a church, we are immediately invited to remember the Eternal Life we have in Christ. Día de los Muertos, in its fullness, is another Easter Procession. We begin with the color of the cempazuchitl, the Mexican marigold, and end with Easter white that is all colors and perfect light. We begin with a deep love of connections, community, roots, and are invited to remember that the fullness of the Christian faith that indeed transcends culture is that eternal life we have in Christ!

This Sunday, I invite you to experience all of this: All Saints’, All Souls’, Día de los Muertos… these are not exactly “three days”, although in Mexico there is certainly a sense of observing this time over a several day period. But still, the movement is an invitation into Easter, the holding of ALL of our lives, past, present and future, within the eternal Now that we point to both in Eucharist – abundant, eternal life in Christ.

The Rev. Patricia Steagall is the Vicar at St. Catherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church and the Associate for Spanish Language Ministry at Kaleidoscope Institute.

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Clint Davis
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Clint Davis

I see dead people from Halloween till Martinmas. That's an excellent span of time. Then for me it's basically Advent. Yeah, I'm one of those long Advent Medievalist..people.

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Raquel Calanza
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Raquel Calanza

The tradition of celebrating All Souls Day to me is a worldwide thing, as well as making the shrines.

As I grew up in a Philippine Roman Catholic household, we always had Christian shrines in the home or in our rooms as a focus for prayer, with Rosaries, candles, holy cards, images, statues, and a crucifix.

For All Souls' Day, filipinos go to the cemetery for an entire day even. They clean the gravesite, light candles, offer prayers, and even have picnics there. At home we make a little shrine for our own departed, with candles and images of our loved ones, and sometimes even with an offering of food.

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