Mobile, Ala., Oct 31, 2020 / 15:00 pm
The end of October and the first few days of November comprise of “Allhallowtide” in the Church--All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. During the month of November, the Church takes special notice to remember, honor and pray for the dead. There are many different cultural traditions around this period, but one of the most consistently honored is the practice of visiting cemeteries.
Some dioceses mark this tradition in an especially solemn way, by celebrating a Mass on All Souls Day in a cemetery. The Church has a special Mass setting for this expressed purpose, which is called the “Order of Visiting a Cemetery.” Fr. Stephen Vrazel, the pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Mobile, Alabama, has celebrated Mass in a cemetery for the past several years, since he was ordained a priest in 2011.
Vrazel told CNA that it is a tradition at the North American College seminary in Rome, where he was a student, to celebrate Mass each year in the college’s mausoleum, the resting place of American priests and seminarians who died while in Rome and were unable to be brought back to the United States.
Vrazel said he was “incredibly moved” by these Masses, and when he became a priest his bishop asked him to preach the homily at an All Souls Day Mass held at Catholic Cemetery in Mobile. He said that even though he grew up in Mobile, he did not know that the bishop had a tradition of celebrating Mass at a cemetery.
These cemetery Masses “were formative experiences for me,” Vrazel told CNA. The Masses “impressed upon me the value of offering the sacrifice of the Mass - not only for the faithfully departed, but in close proximity to the bodies of the deceased.”
When Vrazel was moved to his current parish, he asked if he could celebrate Mass in the Catholic section of a nearby cemetery, and was granted permission by both the vicar general and the administrators of the cemetery. Since then, Vrazel has celebrated at least one Mass at a cemetery on All Souls Day.
“Because a priest is permitted to celebrate Mass three times on All Souls, for a few years I also celebrated Mass at another cemetery,” said Vrazel. “That Mass has since been taken over by another parish.”
The logistics of a Mass at a cemetery are slightly more complicated than for a normal Sunday.