This November, help students understand the beauty and mystery of eternity.
By Rachel Gleeson
November is a special month in the life of the Church. As the weather cools and the orange leaves turn brown, we are called to think of those who have gone before us.
All Saints Day is followed directly by All Souls Day at the very beginning of the month. These paired feasts encourage us to hope for Heaven while remembering those who have passed away and are in need of our prayers. The month as a whole is dedicated to remembering and praying for the souls in Purgatory. As teachers, this month provides us rich opportunities to bring the liturgical life into our classrooms in ways that are meaningful and impactful for our students.
All Saints’ Day
November 1 is a Holy Day of Obligation for a reason. On this day, we don’t just remember the canonized saints whose names we know like Saints Joseph, Therese, and Francis. We also celebrate all those saints in Heaven who are not canonized, the ones whose names are known only to God. This day is a reminder that there may be many more saints in Heaven than we know. It reminds us that we too may become saints one day, even if we’re never canonized.
A saint is someone who is in Heaven with God. It’s important to remind our students that this is our ultimate goal. It may be difficult to help them realize this when even the consequences of not doing their work in class seem like a difficult thing to impress upon them. However, we are all called to be saints. All Saints’ Day reminds us to pause, reflect on our life, and renew our commitment to pursuing the Lord and helping our students do the same.
To bring this idea home, ask students how they plan to become saints. We often ask them what they want to be when they grow up and how they intend to reach that goal. Why not ask them how they intend to reach the goal of Heaven? A simple activity to make this idea more concrete is asking them what they hope to be the patron saint of. There are saints for various occupations, medical conditions, places, and protection from specific dangers. Students could make a simple poster and share with their classmates. With older students, we can challenge them to think more deeply. How will they live heroic virtue so that they may attain Heaven? What’s their game plan to grow closer to Christ?
Alternatively, have students research a holy person who is not yet canonized (a blessed, venerable, or just someone who demonstrates a life of virtue). Students can create a powerpoint presentation or poster that makes the case why this person could be canonized and how they lived a life of heroic virtue. (This is also an opportunity to teach about the canonization process.)
All Souls Day and the Souls in Purgatory
After we have been reminded of our goal, it is important to remember those who went before us aiming for that same goal. While we certainly do not know who is in Purgatory, it is important enough to pray for these souls that the Church dedicates a whole month to them. The end of life can be a difficult topic for anyone, especially children. Our faith gives us hope and it is important that we share that hope with our students.
One way to do this is by inviting students and their families to share the names of loved ones who have passed away. These can be collected on slips of paper and placed in a basket or they can be written down in a small notebook. Placing these names before a candle (perhaps an LED candle for fire safety!) represents our prayers for these people. Leave this in your classroom throughout the month of November to remind you and your students to pray for all those who have passed away.
The souls in Purgatory are also one part of the Communion of Saints. Along with those souls in Heaven and us on earth, we make up the Church. While the saints pray for us, we pray for the souls in Purgatory. November is a great opportunity to help students explore and understand this concept. I have my students draw a diagram of the three parts of the Communion of Saints (saints in Heaven, souls in Purgatory, and people on earth) and explain how they are connected in prayer.
There are many ways to bring the liturgical life of the Church into your classroom this November. It is an opportunity to help students understand the beauty and mystery of eternity. This can be a truly meaningful for students and help them to consider the life to come.
Rachel Gleeson is a middle school and high school Theology teacher and liturgy coordinator at a PreK-12 Catholic school in Wisconsin.