Throughout the first month of my Camino across northern Spain we had been blessed with the warmest and driest October in 200 years. The sun shone every day and the little rain we did have was warm and ended quickly, allowing us to dry out by the end of the walking day. The breezes were mostly warm and dry, especially once we turned inland away from the Bay of Biscay.
But on November 1, the winds shifted. Everyone could feel it in the air. At the top of Monte de Gozo, where we spent our last night on the Camino, a fall chill permeated the atmosphere. It was a visceral reminder of the liturgical season we were entering and, for me, just one more way the Lord showed His face to me on this pilgrimage.
Earlier that day, while trudging up the mount, I could see all the pilgrims spread out before and behind me. Like ants in a line, bent over under the weight of our packs, we slowly made our way up the final obstacle, so to speak, before our ultimate destination. It isn’t the most picturesque location, as the television antennas from the local stations dot the hillside, and the airport looms in the distance, but as I saw the spread-out trail of pilgrims walking alone or in small groups, I was reminded of the beauty of the feast day we were celebrating.
All Saints’ Day celebrates all those who have finished their earthly pilgrimage and arrived at the ultimate destination of Heaven. Both canonized and unknown to all but the Lord Himself, these saints have trod the path before and offer us examples to follow.
This was viscerally tangible on the last full day of my Camino as I was literally following in the footsteps of millions of saintly pilgrims, including St. Francis of Assisi, who arrived in Santiago exactly 800 years before I did. I could also see behind me other pilgrims on the same path, following in my footsteps, which reminded me of the responsibility we have to each other to encourage one another on each of our journeys towards eternal life.
The graces of this special feast day continued the next morning as I completed my Camino in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It was now All Souls’ Day – the day we commemorate all of those who have gone before us in the faith who have not quite made it to the fullness of the glory of God. As it happened to be a Sunday that year, the Pilgrim’s Mass was the full Sunday liturgy, complete with lots of singing and, most important for a pilgrim, the swinging of the Botafumiero, or giant incensor.
During the Mass, the liturgical setting was the Latin plainchant. This means that all the Mass parts, such as the Gloria, the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy), the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), etc. were sung in Latin and the tune was the simple one that my parish uses during Lent, Advent, and other somber times of year. Therefore, I was excited to be able to participate in this Mass with singing, as I hadn’t been able to participate in any other Masses in Spain in this way.
During the Gloria and Sanctus, I had noticed someone else behind me joining in on the singing as well. It wasn’t until I turned around for the Sign of Peace that I recognized a fellow pilgrim who happened to be from South Korea. So, the American and the Korean were worshipping God in one voice by singing in Latin together in a cathedral in Spain. It was an experience that continued the graces from the day before as I was overwhelmed by the connection to the universal church here on earth as well as the heavenly worship with all the saints and angels.
Through these experiences, I have never experienced All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days the same since. I am grateful for the liturgical seasons of the Church that draw us closer to one another as well as those who have gone before and will come after us and that I get to relive this beautiful pilgrimage grace every November.