Some Thoughts on All Saints’ Day — The Ways We Can Experience the Day

This week the church commemorated All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2, and now properly called All Faithful Departed) – we at Holy Apostles will transfer the commemorations to this coming Sunday, November 5. On All Saints’ Day, we remember all saints, known and unknown. But in practice, there was an increasing desire to make a distinction between the better known, exemplary saints (or Saints with a capital “S”), and those small “s” saints who are mostly unknown (such as friends and family). Hence, in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, provision was made to also remember All Faithful Departed on the day following All Saints’ Day. (Many churches combine the days, and transfer them to the nearest Sunday.)

All Saints’ began in the fourth century as a feast to remember Christian martyrs. By the ninth century, in England and Germany, it had moved to November 1, perhaps as a way to connect it to the already existing Celtic harvest festival of Samhain. The completion of the harvest and the onset of winter was a reminder of mortality, and a time when dead souls might try to return to their homes. Big bonfires were set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits, while hearth fires were set and food and wine left out for the spirits of loved ones. The commemoration of All Souls’ was a natural addition to the celebration of All Saints’, with the idea that perhaps the Saints could intercede on behalf of dead loved ones who were in Purgatory. The Reformation changed many Christians’ view of All Saints’ and All Souls’, but the traditions were revived in the 19th century with the Anglo-Catholic revival.

Here is a wonderful All Saints’ prayer, from my favorite, The Celtic Wheel of the Year by Tess Ward. Which saints might you add in?!

As I rise up this morning, I invoke the spirit of the saints.
I invoke Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela that I might fight for freedom.
I invoke poor Francis and fiery Hildegard that I might honour the earth.
I invoke Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks that I might dream of justice.
I invoke Brother Roger and Mahatma Gandhi that I might seek to reconcile.
I invoke Mother Teresa and Jean Vanier that I might live with compassion.
I invoke the unnamed ones who have shown love to loveless children.
I invoke the small acts of kindness, the pots of stew left on doorstep,
the welcome of the different one, the lone voice who dares to speak out.
I invoke the devotion of unsung men and women to their fellow human beings.
I invoke the prophetic action of those who do not count the cost.
I invoke the faithfulness of those who have prayed in their little rooms
day in and day out, with no fame or fuss, and kept the world turning.
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses I invoke the Holy Spirit,
for without love, my life will be as nothing this day.