Are Dia de los Muertos traditions okay?

Growing up we would celebrate All Souls Day (November 2) by attending Mass, then going to family gravesites (nonperpetual care) to weed and place flowers. Other Hispanics had additional practices of placing the deceased’s favorite foods on the grave. There were others who would go as far as lighting candles to invoke the spirit of the deceased.

What is the Catholic Church’s position on the traditions surrounding Dia de los Muertos (Spanish, “day of the dead”) practiced in Latin America, and have these practices ever been condemned?

So far as I know, the Church has never condemned the pious traditions surrounding the celebration of All Souls Day in Latin American countries. Properly understood, there is no reason why such customs should be condemned.

Setting out reminders of the deceased on a day that commemorates his life and his eternal birth is a lovely practice. Providing such banquets for the deceased is not limited to Hispanic Catholics, by the way. Italian Catholics have a custom called St. Joseph’s Table, by which they celebrate St. Joseph’s feast day by cooking a banquet in his honor. No one really expects St. Joseph to actually come and eat the banquet; the food is, in fact, for a neighborhood celebration and is often shared with the poor. In the same way, I highly doubt Hispanic Catholics expect their deceased relative to actually eat the culinary offerings left on the graves. The food is simply a gift to the deceased in honor of his birth into the next life.

As for lighting candles, Catholics of all cultures use candles in their prayers. The candle is a symbol of a prayer that is said for the deceased person’s soul and it is piously believed that the prayer continues so long as the candle is lighted. The Church implores the living to pray for the souls of the dead because those prayers can help deceased loved ones if they are in purgatory. Even if the loved ones cannot be directly helped – because they are either in heaven or hell and do not need prayer – God can use those prayers for others who are in purgatory.

**Recommended reading:

The Roots of Purgatory
The Biblical Doctrine of Purgatory** by Patrick Madrid

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