Sunday, November 1

Finding Meaning in All Saint's Day

All Saint's Day, also known as All Hallow's Day, is the celebration held in the West on November 1 commemorating and celebrating the lives of all saints. It is celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican and United Methodist churches, as well as several other Christian denominations. In the West, November 2 is All Soul's Day, making October 31 (All Hallow's Eve), November 1 (All Saint's Day) and November 2 the triduum of Hallowtide. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates this feast on the first Sunday after Pentecost - called All Saints' Sunday. In the United Methodist Church, it is celebrated on the first Sunday in November, but is held to remember both saints and former members of the local church who had passed away. However, in Catholic theology, All Saint's Day celebrates all who have attained the Beatific Vision.

The theology behind All Saint's Day is based on the doctrine of the Communion of Saints - believed to be the great cloud of witnesses referenced in Hebrews 12:1. This "communion of saints" was referred to in Christian tradition as early as the Apostle's Creed, which is recited by Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and others. It is the idea that all of God's children - those in heaven and those on earth - are connected. Thus, they are all in communion with one another. These saints are not divine nor do they have any divine capabilities, but as we are all in communion with Christ (Romans 8:32; 1st Corinthians 6:17; 1st John 1:3), our earthly prayers join their heavenly prayers. The idea that there are individuals who heaven who are given the task of presenting our prayers before God is seen in Revelation and elsewhere (in Job, for example). The essential point is that Christians - those from every century and up to the present day - are all part of a large family or community. For some in heaven, Scripture shows that they are given this ability to present our prayers before God not because they can hear it themselves, but because God is giving these “saints” a role to play in the development of the family, a participatory role.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 350) refers 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 celebration of All Saint's Day goes back to the ancient Christian practice of celebrating saints and martyrs. In the AD 100s, the Martyrdom of Polycarp 18 said, "Accordingly, we afterwards took up [Polycarp's] 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).

Early on when persecutions increased as did the number of martyrs, local dioceses (a district under care of a bishop) began feast days in order to celebrate all martyrs. The date of this celebration was sporadic and moved around quite a bit, and initially the common feast days were more about honoring local saints rather than the larger communion of saints. But over time the feast day became more and more universal in purpose and intent. St. Ephrem the Syrian (AD 373) refers to a universal feast day for saints. St. John Chrysostom (AD 407) provided a day to the feast - the first Sunday after Pentecost, which, as aforementioned, is when the Eastern Orthodox church still celebrates. The feast, likely around the 8th century, became celebrated more and more on November 1.

On its most basic level, All Saint's Day should be a reminder to Christians that we are all part of a much larger family, and that we should all strive to become saintly and holy in our words and deeds. Following his conversion in 1930s, Thomas Merton was asked by his friend Robert Lax what he wanted to be, now that he was a Catholic. Merton said that he wanted to be a good Catholic. “What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!” “How do you expect me to become a saint?,” Merton asked him. Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it” (from Seven Storey Mountain). Every Christian should desire to become saintly. Often when we think of saints we may think of the early apostles, the martyrs, St. Francis of Assisi with his austerity and dedication, Mother Teresa and others. But we can all be saints, by living out the Beatitudes and becoming more humble, more loving, and more giving of ourselves.

"All Saints' Day." Catholic Online. Web. 

Bennett, David. "The Solemnity of All Saints Day." All Saints Day. Church Year, 28 Oct. 2015. Web.

Mershman, Francis. "All Saints' Day." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 1 Nov. 2015 .

Richert, Scott P. "What Is All Saints Day?" Religion & Spirituality. About. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.

Smith, C. "Feast of All Saints" in The New Catholic Encyclopedia. 1967, 318. Print.

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