Ramiel took a deep breath, enjoying the sunlight’s warmth on his wings and the wind’s gentle caresses even as he stood behind the Ong family, listening to their prayers uttered in soft whispers in front of their patriarch’s grave – one Ong Boon Tat. He had been stationed here at Xiao En Memorial Park for the last 30 years, fulfilling his duty of collecting prayers from the faithful every day, especially on All Souls Day. But his time here was coming to an end, and Ramiel would be stationed elsewhere soon. It was time to pass the baton.
“So, what are we doing today?“ a voice asked. Ramiel tilted his head to the right and spotted Safiel, floating around the Ong family in slow circles. Safiel, newly descended from Heaven and completely unfamiliar with the prayer customs of the Lord’s followers, was an inquisitive one. A good quality to have, if Safiel was to be his successor over the Xiao En Memoral Park area. As it is his first day of training, Ramiel decided to start with the basics.
“You came just when our busiest period of the year is about to begin. There will be a lot to do between now until November. Before we proceed with the day, did anyone brief you about All Souls Day?”
Safiel shook his head. “I was told I would be stationed here for prayer collecting duties and to report to you for the job’s briefing and training.”
Ramiel gave a brief nod, before he clasped his hands behind him.
“Very well. To begin, All Souls Day is also called the “Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed”. It is held every 2nd November, where believers of our Lord come together to honour deceased believers, especially their departed loved ones.”
“Can’t believers also pray for their departed loved ones on other days too?”, Safiel asked.
Ramiel nodded, before turning towards the family who’re still praying.
“Indeed, believers could pray for their departed loved ones and deceased believers any day. However, All Souls Day was specifically set aside for living believers to pray for the faithful departed who reside in Purgatory. The prayers will assist in cleansing these souls from the lesser sins they have not yet rid themselves off in life. Once they are completely cleansed, they will be fit to enter Heaven.”
Ramiel moved closer to the family, observing how their prayers slowly condensed into an orb of light before he continued his briefing.
“The practice started when Saint Odilo of Cluny instituted for all monasteries that were dependent on the Cluny Abbey to set aside an annual day of remembrance and intercession on behalf of the souls in Purgatory, which became universally practiced by the 13th century.”
Making a gesture with his right hand, Ramiel pointed towards the front of the family. The orb of light that formed from the Ong family’s prayers, hovered waist high above the grave, invisible to mortal eyes like the angels themselves. As they both observed the orb’s manifestation, Ramiel continued his briefing.
“Our job is to collect these prayers and then deliver them to the Distribution Center in Heaven for approval and await further action. When approved, we will carry out the prayer’s requests.”
A moment of silence fell between the two angels when the Ong family finished their prayers. Standing still with contemplative expressions and faraway gazes, clearly reminiscing memories of the beloved father and husband, as the candlelight before the grave flickered and the bouquet of flowers – an elegant array of white roses and red gerbera daisies – swayed in the wind.
The mother clutched her adolescent son and daughter in a tight embrace, even as tears became visible in her eyes.
“Is there a particular meaning to this ritual? The candles and these flowers, I’ve noticed many of these laying around the graves of other departed believers. What is their significance?”, Safiel queried.
Ramiel briefly glanced at the lighted candles and flowers, before turning his attention back to the orb and with practiced nonchalance, plucked it from the air. As he examined the orb, Ramiel replied.
“The candles are symbolic for the both living and departed believers, that our Lord will guide them towards salvation in both life and death. They’re a reference to a verse in the book of our Lord, the Bible, John 8:12 which states ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’. Light is the ultimate representation of salvation and goodness. As our Lord is the light, that verse simply means that living believers will find guidance on how to lead righteous lives from our Lord, thus avoiding the darkness that living a life of sin brings while alive. For the departed, it means eternal life in His kingdom, away from the darkness of sin’s damnation.”
“What about the flowers?”
“There isn’t any particular meaning about flowers, other than the fact they’re our Lord’s creation and used often as allegories or metaphors in the Bible. However, in the 14th and 15th centuries, an appreciation of the natural world became popular in Europe, resulting in increased depictions of flowers and plants in art. At the same time, a religious movement within the Catholic Church called Devotio Moderna began to take place. Among many things advocated, the movement preached that the divine was ever-present, and could be readily seen in everyday objects. This resulted in Christian symbolisms being infused into art, adding a deeper layer of meaning to flowers.”
Satisfied with his examination, Ramiel carefully tucked the orb into a pocket within his white robes and turned to Safiel.
“Roses have come to symbolise many things such as enduring love, beauty, and sacrifice for a heartfelt desire. It is also associated with the Virgin Mary as the Rosa Mundi – The Rose of the World. It symbolises her motherhood, which led to the birth of Christ as a symbol of God’s love for the world. The white rose is especially symbolic for the purity of both the Virgin and the Christ.”
Turning his attention to the flowers, Ramiel gently stroked the petals of the daisies amongst the bouquet. A sombre expression came over his face, which had been stoic throughout Safiel’s briefing.
“Daisies on the other hand, represents innocence. The use of red gerbera daisies here is rather fitting, as red typically represents the blood of Christ that cleanses believers from sin as He was sacrificed for the sins of the world. The ultimate sacrifice by the One, innocent and pure from any sin, for the sake of humanity.”
The lull in their conversation came as the family packed up their belongings and began to walk away from the grave. The two angels kept their gaze on them until they were out of sight.
In a tone that indicated he was concluding his briefing, Ramiel spoke “It may seem strange to watch mortals perform this annual event to you, but if it is important for them. Remembering the departed reminds the living to keep an eternal perspective on life. That where they go after death is important, and that there’s a reunion to be had in Heaven, with family and friends who went before them. In this manner, their faith is even more precious. For they believe, even when they cannot yet see.”
Safiel pondered over Ramiel’s words. He caught the gist of what his mentor said, but resolved to reflect more deeply on this conversation later when they weren’t so busy. The sound of Ramiel snapping his fingers broke Safiel from his thoughts.
“Come. There is more work to be done,” said Ramiel, as he spotted an old man making his way to a grave further to the left side from where the angels stood. Safiel glanced at Ong Boon Tat’s grave and the array of candles and flowers around it one more time, before following after his mentor.
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