Liturgical Color(s): White

Type of Holiday: Solemnity, Holy Day of Obligation
 (West); Feast (East)

Time of Year
: November 1 (in Orthodox Churches, the Sunday after Pentecost)

Duration
: One Day

Celebrates/Symbolizes
: All Saints, known and unknown

Alternate Names: All Hallows, Hallowmas, Halloween, Feast of All Saints


What is All Saints Day?  It is when the Catholic Church and some Protestant churches commemorate every saint, known and unknown.  The eve of All Saints is known as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween.  It falls on November 1st.

All Saints Day, the day on which Catholics celebrate all the saints, known and unknown, is a surprisingly old feast.  It arose out of the Christian tradition of celebrating the martyrdom of saints on the anniversary of their martyrdom.  When martyrdoms increased during the persecutions of the late Roman Empire, local dioceses instituted a common feast day in order to ensure that all martyrs, known and unknown, were properly honored.

Scriptural References:

Mark 12:26-27

Ephesians 6:18

26 And as concerning the dead that they rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spoke to him, saying: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?

27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You therefore do greatly err.

18 By all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the spirit; and in the same watching with all instance and supplication for all the saints:

Hebrews 12:1

Revelation 5:8

And therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: 8 And when he had opened the book, the four living creatures, and the four and twenty ancients fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints:

Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14

Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6;

2 And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the sign of the living God; and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,

3 Saying: Hurt not the earth, nor the sea, nor the trees, till we sign the servants of our God in their foreheads.

4 And I heard the number of them that were signed, an hundred forty-four thousand were signed, of every tribe of the children of Israel.

9 After this I saw a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne, and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands:

10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying: Salvation to our God, who sited upon the throne, and to the Lamb.

11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and the ancients, and the four living creatures; and they fell down before the throne upon their faces, and adored God,

12 Saying: Amen. Benediction, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, honour, and power, and strength to our God for ever and ever. Amen.

13 And one of the ancients answered, and said to me: These that are clothed in white robes, who are they? and whence came they?

14 And I said to him: My Lord, thou knows. And he said to me: These are they who are come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

 On the first day of the week, a psalm for David. The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof: the world, and all they that dwell therein.

2 For he hath founded it upon the seas; and hath prepared it upon the rivers.

3 Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord: or who shall stand in his holy place?

4 The innocent in hands, and clean of heart, who hath not taken his soul in vain, nor sworn deceitfully to his neighbour.

5 He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, and mercy from God his Saviour.

6 This is the generation of them that seek him, of them that seek the face of the God of Jacob.

1 John 3:1-3

Behold what manner of charity the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called, and should be the sons of God. Therefore the world knoweth not us, because it knew not him.

2 Dearly beloved, we are now the sons of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know, that, when he shall appear, we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is.

3 And every one that hath this hope in him, sanctified himself, as he also is holy.

 

Introduction

Every day in the Church year has a saint day, but the Solemnity of All Saints is when the Church honors all saints, known and unknown. This is similar to the American holidays of Veterans Day and Presidents Day, and in Jamaica - National Heroes Day,,  when a group of people are honored on a specific day. While we have information about many saints, and we honor them on specific days, there are many unknown or unsung saints, who may have been forgotten, or never been honored specifically. On All Saints Day, we celebrate these holy men and women, and ask for their prayers and intercessions.

The concept of All Saints Day is connected to the doctrine of The Communion of Saints. This is the concept that all of God's people, on heaven, earth, and in the state of purification (called Purgatoryin the West), 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 you and I, and are constantly interceding on our behalf. Remember, our connection with the saints in heaven is one grounded in a tight-knit communion. The saints are not divine, nor omnipresent or omniscient. However, because of our common communion with and through Jesus Christ, our prayers are joined with the heavenly community of Christians. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 350) testifies to this belief:

We mention those who have fallen asleep: first the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition...(Catechetical Lecture 23:9).

The Catholic Catechism concisely describes this communion among believers, by which we are connected to Christ, and thus to one another:

"Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness...They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us...So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped."

"...as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself: We worship Christ as God's Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord's disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples (CCC 956, 957)!

There are thousands of canonized saints, that is those individuals officially recognized by the Church as holy men and women worthy of imitation. Because miracles have been associated with these people, and their lives have been fully examined and found holy by the Church, we can be assured they are prime examples of holiness, and powerful intercessors before God on our behalf. There are also many patron saints, guardians or protectors of different 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 crazy to have a patron saint against oversleeping, but keep in mind 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 (for instance, St. Hilary of Poitiers, whose feast day is celebrated January 13).

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History

By the late fourth century, this common feast was celebrated in Antioch, and Saint Ephrem the Syrianmentioned it in a sermon in 373. In the early centuries, this feast was celebrated in the Easter season, and the Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, still celebrate it then.

The current date of November 1 was instituted by Pope Gregory III (731-741), when he consecrated a chapel to all the martyrs in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and ordered an annual celebration. This celebration was originally confined to the diocese of Rome, but Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended the feast to the entire Church and ordered it to be celebrated on November 1.

The vigil or eve of the feast, October 31, is commonly known as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween.

Despite concerns among some Christians (including some Catholics) in recent years about the "pagan origins" of Halloween (see Halloween, Jack Chick, and Anti-Catholicism), the vigil was celebrated from the beginning—long before Irish practices, stripped of their pagan origins (just as the Christmas tree was stripped of similar connotations), were incorporated into popular celebrations of the feast.

Christians have been honoring saints and martyrs since at least the second century AD. The Martyrdom of Polycarp, probably written near the middle of the second century, attests to this reality:

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 (18).

Initially the calendars of saints and martyrs varied by location, with churches honoring 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) 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 May 13th. The current observance (November 1) probably originates from the time of Pope Gregory III (d. AD 741), and was likely first observed on November 1st in Germany. This fact makes the connection of the All Saints Feast with the pagan festival Samhain less likely, since Samhain was an Irish pagan feast, rather than German.

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 to be "pagan," as far as the Church is concerned, the date is simply the eve of the feast of All Saints. 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. David Morrison explains the proper relationship between Christians and Halloween. Various customs have developed related 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. 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 faithful departed. In many cultures it seems the two days share many customs. See the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church for more information.

Traditions, Customs, Symbols, and Typology

Traditions and Customs

Visiting Cemeteries (All Hallows Eve)
Giving "Soul Cakes" To The poor (All Hallows Eve)

Symbols

Sheaf of Wheat
Rayed Manus Dei (Hand of God)
Crown
Symbols of Individual Saints

Old Testament Typology Foreshadowing All Saints Day

All Old Testament Holy Men and Women
Old Testament Martyrs
God's Covenants With Groups of People

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Isn't Celebrating All Saints Day Idolatry?
Good question. Many non-Catholics, especially those from more fundamentalist backgrounds, assume that celebrating the saints means somehow worshiping them. This leads some Christians to claim that All Saints Day is an idolatrous holiday. The Church, East and West, has always distinguished between worship (latria), given to God alone, and veneration (dulia), which may be given to the saints. The highest form of veneration (hyperdulia) is due to the Blessed Virgin Mary. If someone is treating a saint as one should treat God, then yes, that is idolatry. That being said, Catholics believe that the saints have a role in our lives, as intercessors on our behalf, because we are all united by our communion in Christ. The saints are continually praying for us and interceding on our behalf, on account of their closeness to Christ. This is because God is the God of the living, not of the dead. As such, asking a saint for intercession is no more idolatrous than asking a holy friend or pastor to pray for you.

Remembering and honoring the saints are beneficial practices, because to remember the heroes of the faith and follow their examples are good things. Many Christians seem to strongly oppose remembering and celebrating the lives of great Christian men and women, yet have no problem celebrating the lives of secular heroes like George Washington. All Saints Day is kind of like a Christian Memorial Day or Presidents Day, a day to celebrate the lives of all the great heroes of the Christian faith, and to celebrate the deep communion we have with them. While celebrating secular heroes is admirable, how much more admirable is celebrating those who fully dedicated their lives to Christ!

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Last Time page was updated Thursday, October 27, 2016 09:07 PM