All Saints Day - more to this festival than you expect
What is All Saints Day?
This day provides a chance for Catholic and Anglican Churches (and some Protestant churches) to offer thanks for the work and witness of all Christian saints, recognising that not all are known or specially celebrated.
This falls on 1st November, however this festival is moved to the nearest Sunday if it falls on a Saturday or a Monday), and for us it will be 3rd November.
The Church celebrates holy men and women throughout the Churches year on various saint days, but the “Solemnity of All Saints” or the importance is when the Church honours every saint: those officially known and honoured on the Churches calendar throughout the year, and the saints known only to God.
This concept is similar to Remembrance Day, when we think about, pray and honour the fallen, not by name but as a collective.
While we have information about many saints, and we honour them on specific days throughout the church’s year, there are many unknown or unsung saints, who may have been forgotten, or never been honoured specifically.
On All Saints day, we celebrate these holy individuals, and ask for their prayers and intercessions.
The concept of All Saints Day is connected to the doctrine of "The Communion of Saints," or in other words fellowship or solidarity .
This is the churches teaching that all of God's people, in heaven or on earth, and in the state of purification (Purgatory), are spiritually connected and united, in other words, Catholic and Orthodox Christians (and some Protestants) believe that the saints of God are just as alive as those on earth, and are constantly interceding on our behalf.
Our connection with the saints in heaven is grounded in a tight-knit communion, the saints are not divine, all knowing and everywhere like God is, however, because of our common communion with and through Jesus Christ, our prayers are joined with the heavenly community of Christians.
In the Western Christian practice, the celebration begins at vespers or evening prayer on the evening of the 31st October, All Saints Eve, or more commonly known as All Hallows Eve, and ends at the close of 1st November, and therefore the day before All Souls Day, which commemorates the faithfully departed.
In many traditions, All Saints Day is part of the season of Allhallowtide or Hallowtide, or Allsintsdide or the Hallowmas season, and is three days encompassing the Western Christian observances of All Saints Eve (Halloween) All Saints Day (All Hallows) and All Souls Day. 31st October to 2nd November annually.
The vigil of the Feast (the eve) has grown up in the English speaking countries as a festival in itself, "All Hallows Eve," or Halloween. While some Christians refuse to observe the holiday, considering it "pagan," as far as the Church is concerned, the date is simply the eve of the feast of All Saints. In fact, many customs of Halloween reflect the Christian belief that on the feast's vigils we mock evil, because as Christians, it has no real power over us.
There are many patron saints, looking after us if you will, in areas and states of life.
For instance, St. Vitus is the patron saint against oversleeping, and St. Joseph of Cupertino is the patron saint of air travelers
It may sound odd to have a patron saint "against oversleeping," but the Church has something meaningful for every area of our human lives.
All of these saints are celebrated throughout the year, as many have their own feast days, and we can’t forget our own St Francis, whose feast day is celebrated 4th October).
Christians have been officially honouring saints and martyrs since at least the second century AD.
(Bit of background info here, stay with me)
The Martyrdom of Polycarp, is a manuscript written in the form of a letter that relates to the religious martyrdom of Polycarp.
He was a 2nd century Christian bishop of Smyrna a site in modern day Turkey, and a disciple of John the Apostle.
This Letter/manuscript was probably written near the middle of the second century AD, and if forms the earliest account of Christian martyrdom outside of the New Testament.
The author of this manuscript is unknown, but it has been attributed to members of the group of early Christian theologians known as the Church father.
This manuscript is partly written from the point of view of an eye-witness recounting the arrest of an elderly Polycarp and the Romans attempt to execute him by fire and the following miraculous events, the manuscript goes on to recount
“Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more pure than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, so that when being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps”
Initially the calendars of saints and martyrs varied by location, with churches honouring local saints. However, gradually feast days became more universal.
The first reference to a general feast celebrating all Saints occurs in St Ephrem the Syrian (d. AD 373).
St. John Chrysostom (d. AD 407) Archbishop of Constantinople and an early church father assigned a day to the feast, the first Sunday after Pentecost, where in the Eastern Churches the feast is celebrated to this day.
In the West, this date was probably originally used, and then the feast was moved to 13th May. The current observance (1st November) probably originates from the time of Pope Gregory III (d. AD 741) and was likely first observed on 1st November in Germany.
I can’t end my usually round up of a feast day without touching on various customs which have developed and perhaps make reading this more interesting, and non-more interesting the those relating to Halloween.
In the Middle Ages, poor people in the community begged for "soul cakes," and upon receiving these doughnuts, they would agree to pray for departed souls. This is the root of our modern day "trick-or-treat." The custom of masks and costumes developed to mock evil and perhaps confuse the evil spirits by dressing as one of their own. Some Christians visit cemeteries on Halloween, not to practice evil, but to commemorate departed relatives and friends, with picnics and the last flowers of the year.
As mentions above the day after All Saints day is called "All Soul's Day," a day to remember and offer prayers up on behalf of all of the faithfully departed, and it seems in many cultures these two days share many customs, interesting.