This past weekend, we celebrated the Feast of All Saints’ Day also known as All Hallows or the Feast of All Saints. It falls on November 1, the day after Halloween. In fact the term Halloween comes from All Hallows Eve. It is celebrated across the board; Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants celebrate this feast. The following day is All Souls (November 2). October 31-November 2 is called Hallowtide.
In Catholic theology, the day commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in heaven. It is a national holiday in many traditional Catholic countries. The next day commemorates all the faithful departed who have not yet been purified and reached heaven. In both the Catholic and Anglican churches, November 2nd is called the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. The celebration of these days comes from the fundamental belief that there is a spiritual and prayerful bond between those in heaven (Church Triumphant) and those still on earth (Church Militant). In local congregations, deceased members are honored and remembered.
All Saints’ Day may originate in the ancient Roman observation of May 13, the Feast of Lemures, in which malevolent and restless spirits were propitiated. Some scholars base the idea that this Lemuria festival was the origin was that of All Saints on their identical dates and the similar theme of all the dead.
In the early church, Christians would commemorate a martyr’s death at the place of death. In the fourth century, with the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate date for each could not be assigned to each. But the church, rightly feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. The first trace of this can be found in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. And in the Eastern Orthodox Church, All Saints is still celebrated on this day.
The origin of All Saints’ Day cannot be traced with certainty, and it has been celebrated on various day in different places. The Feast of All Saints on its current date is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III (731-741) who in oratory on relics moved the day of celebration to November 1 and suppressed the May 13 festival.
A November festival of all saints was already widely celebrated in the days of Charlemagne. It was made a day of obligation throughout the Frankish empire in 835, by a decree of Louis the Pious issued at the instance of Pope Gregory IV and with the assent of all of the bishops.
The festival was retained after the Reformation in the Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist churches. Protestants generally regard all true Christians as saints. There are those saints with a capital “S” like Luke, Peter, Paul, etc. And then there are those with a little “s” (the rest of us). In Protestant churches, All Saints is celebrated in remembrance of all Christians both past and present.
In Mexico, All Saints coincides with the first day of the Day of the Dead celebration. Known as the Day of the Innocents, it honors deceased children and infants. In Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Chile, France, Hungary, Italy, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malta, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain and U.S. cities like New Orleans, people bring flowers to the graves of dead relatives. In some parts like Portugal, they also light candles on the graves.
In Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, Catholic parts of Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia and Sweden, the custom is to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives. In English-speaking nations the festival is traditionally celebrated with the hymn “For All the Saints” by Walsham How. The most familiar hymn tune for this hymn is “Sine Nomine” by Ralph Vaughn Williams. Another popular hymn for this day is “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”
Remembering those who have gone before is especially important. Laura Huff Hileman writes, “Saints are just people who are trying to listen to God’s Word and live God’s call. This is the communion of saints we speak of in the Apostle’s Creed-that fellowship of believers that reaches beyond time and place, even beyond death. Remembering the saints who have helped extend and enliven God’s kingdom is what All Saints’ Day is about.” Indeed, we are surrounded by that “great cloud of witnesses” and they are watching us each and every day. On All Saints, we take time to remember “all the saints from whom the labors rest.”