There are No Replacements for Them: An All Souls Meditation

Today, then, we want to remember before God our dead, all those who once belonged to us and who have departed from us. There are so many of them that we can by no means take them all at one glance. If our celebration is to greet them all, we must go back in memory over our path through life. When we go about it in this way, from our point of view it is like a procession of persons marching down the street of life.

At each moment, without bidding farewell, someone or other silently withdraws form the procession and, turning aside from the road, is lost in the darkness of the night. This procession becomes smaller and smaller for each one of us. The real procession of each of our lives is made up of those whom we really love. This procession is always becoming smaller and quieter, until each one of us becomes silent once and for all, turns aside from the road, and passes away without a farewell, never to return.

There are No Replacements

That is why our heart today is with those who have already departed in just such a way. There are no replacements for them; no other human being could really fill the vacancy left by a loved one when she suddenly and unexpectedly departs and is at our side no longer.

In true love no one can replace the beloved, for true love loves the beloved in those depths where each individual is uniquely and irreplaceably herself. That is why each one of those who have passed away have taken the heart with them, if death has trodden through our lives from beginning to end.

If someone has really loved and continues to love, then even before his own death his life is changed into a life with the dead. Could the lover forget her dead? If one has really loved, then her forgetting and the fact that she has ceased weeping are not signs that nothing has really changed, that she is just the same as before. They are, rather, signs that a part of her own heart has really died with the loved one, and is now living with the dead. That is why she can no longer mourn. We live, then, with the dead, with those who have gone before us into the dark night of death, where no one can work any more.

All Saints day and All Souls day are the feasts of every saint and of every soul who has died and gone home into the eternal love of God. All of them. God has inscribed their names in the book of life, which is the heart of His eternal love.

Up, then, and celebrate the heart-feast of All Saints, of All Souls — your saints, your beloved souls! Sorrow and joy, grief and happiness are strangely blended into this feast. Just as they are with the things of eternity. Celebrate an All Saints of peace and loyalty. Of yearning and of faith. Celebrate your dead who are still living.


Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J., was one of the major (though controversial) Catholic theologians of the last century. Pope John XXIII appointed him a peritus or advisor to the Second Vatican Council, on which he had considerable influence. This reflection is adapted from his homily on All Saints and All Souls collected in Biblical Homilies and later in The Great Church Year.

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