This Week at St. Mark's

Dia de los Muertos Altar at St Mark

Faith, tradition and culture: This is the “Day of the Dead” in Mexico.

Throughout the universal Church, November 2 is a day to celebrate the faithful departed, a time when the Church remembers and intercedes for all the souls of those who have passed on to a new life. In Mexico, it is a feast that mixes faith, culture and tradition.

In Mexico, the commemoration of the Faithful Departed gives way to a traditional celebration full of color and symbolism, tradition and culture, which shows the faith, love and hope of people in the face of the death of a loved one. This Mexican tradition has been recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


It should be clarified that in Mexico this celebration is not ‘a satanic cult’ or something related to a ‘death cult’. The celebration of the Day of the Dead is part of a belief that has its roots in the pre-Hispanic world. In the Mexica culture, for example, death is seen as an awakening and as a rebirth to the other world.


With the arrival of the European presence and the missionaries, this ritual underwent a process of inculturation.  The missionaries, upon seeing those pre-Hispanic traditions and rites, opted for an inculturation, giving a twist to the meaning of the offerings and some rites. Little by little, the gospel came to life in the popular culture, contributing elements and purifying many other negative elements of the local culture.

The traditional offerings took a shift towards Christ: today, for example, the presence of an image of Christ or a crucifix in the offering cannot be absent, which reminds us that he is the conqueror of death.


Among the elements that still remain in these offerings are the famous ‘skulls’, today made of chocolate or “alfeñique”, which remind us of death as an inevitable passage from the earthly to the spiritual. We also find the traditional “pan de muerto”, unique in these days. We also find the “cempasúchil” flower, an element that was believed to indicate to the souls the way back and forth between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

In these offerings, the photo of the deceased relative or loved one cannot be missing. In the same offering are placed foods that the deceased liked in life. Today, as in many places in the world, people go to the cemeteries to decorate the graves and place the offerings. Something traditional is to go to the cemeteries to hold a vigil, spending the night of November 1st to 2nd near the graves praying, singing and remembering the life of the deceased. Today many priests celebrate the Mass for the faithful departed in the cemetery itself.


However, today there is a great pastoral challenge. Many people are not well informed about these celebrations in their cultural and historical context and assume that it is just a pagan feast. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church approves of the inculturation of this feast, as long as the center is Christ. It is a way in which the dimensions of the church are in communion. We, as the church militant (who are alive and struggling to attain salvation) pray for the purging church (the souls in purgatory expiring their faults) so that we may all obtain the grace to join the church triumphant (all the saints and souls who now enjoy eternal life and the presence of God in heaven).

Pope Francis in 2014 affirmed that “the remembrance of the deceased, the care of the tombs and the suffrages are testimonies of confident hope, rooted in the certainty that death is not the last word on the human lot, since man is destined for a life without limits, whose root and fulfillment are in God.”

Source: Vatican News