When is All Saints' Day (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with Christian populations
Observed on November 1 or Sunday after Pentecost (Orthodox Christians)
Observed by Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Lutherans, and Anglicans
All Saints’ Day is a widely celebrated Christian feast that pays tribute to all Christian saints, both renowned and obscure. According to Pope Urban IV (r. 1261–64), observing this day also makes up for any inadequacies in an individual’s observance of saints’ feast days during the previous year. In the Western churches (especially Lutheran, Anglican, and Roman Catholic) this festival is celebrated on November 1, while the Eastern Orthodox Churches observe it on the first Sunday following Pentecost. Due to their differing perceptions of the individuality and purpose of the saints, the Christian denominations vary widely in their celebrations of All Saints’ Day.
For Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and to some extent Anglicans, the event is a day to remember the saints and to thank God. It is also a day to honor and give thanks to the saints for fulfilling the believer’s prayers. It is a common practice among Christians to honor and pay homage to the better known saints on certain days designated as their feast days, but there are many unsung or lesser known saints who have almost passed into oblivion or are given little recognition today. On All Saints’ Day, Christians remember such nearly forgotten saints and request their intercession in mundane matters. An “intercessory prayer” is the act of praying on behalf of other people, and it goes beyond the typical requests of routine prayers offered for others.
The person making an intercessory prayer acts as an intermediary between God and the person or people being prayed for, thereby bridging the gap between them. The intention of these earnest prayers is not merely to request that God grant the wishes of the intermediary, but to express the expectation that God will bring to pass whatever is prayed for.
This is a unique festival for Christians, one that enlightens and inspires them by examples and incidents from the lives of the saints. The nearly 2,000 years of Church history is replete with anecdotes of faithful, devout Christians, some famous (such as Augustine, Francis of Assisi, or Joan of Arc), others innocuous and known only to God. On All Saints’ Day Christians venerate not only popular saints but lesser known holy men and women as well.
Origins and History
During the very early days of Christianity, only John the Baptist and the martyrs were given the privilege of having a special day for themselves.
The rest of the saints were gradually added, and they increased in number after the pope instituted a process of canonization in the fourth century.
The practice of honoring saints and martyrs of the Christian faith may have begun as early as the second century C.E. The “Martyrdom of Polycarp,” an encyclical epistle of the Church at Smyrna, written around the middle of the second century, confirms this. In the fourth century, dioceses began to exchange feasts, to transfer relics, and to partake in a common feast. Often, groups of martyrs had been persecuted on the same day; so a joint tribute seemed quite logical. From the persecution of Diocletian (245–313), there were so many martyrs that there were not enough days in the calendar to give each one his or her own feast day. The church, upholding the sentiment that all martyrs deserved to be honored, gradually evolved the practical idea of a common day for all.
The first All Saints’ Day has an interesting history behind it. Flavius Phocas Augustus (r. 602–10) ruled Rome and Byzantium as Eastern Roman emperor.
During his reign, the Byzantines controlled the city of Rome although the pope enjoyed considerable power. Since he tended to side with the popes in many of the contemporary theological controversies, Phocas was on good terms with the papacy.
During the last year of his reign, Phocas gave the Pantheon (a magnificent edifice in Rome that housed statues of Roman gods and goddesses such as Jupiter, Venus, and Mars) to Pope Boniface IV (r. 608–15) to convert into a church; on May 13, 609, the temple was consecrated by the pope to the Virgin Mary and all the Christian martyrs. Twentyeight cartloads of sacred bones of various martyrs and saints were believed to have been removed from the catacombs (underground burial places) and placed in a basin made of porphyry (a red Egyptian stone like granite) beneath the main altar of the Pantheon. Boniface renamed the edifice the Church of Santa Maria ad Martyres. This church is believed to be the first pagan temple to be transformed into a Christian shrine, and its consecration, the very first observance of All Saints’ Day.
The present observance (November 1) possibly began during the reign of Pope Gregory III (r.
731–41). During his reign All Saints’ Day began to embrace all the saints in its observances. In 835 Pope Gregory IV (r. 827–44) fixed the date of the festival on November 1 and christened the festival the “Feast of All Saints.” Around the time of its establishment, the Roman Catholic Church earnestly endeavored to mold pagan local celebrations in order to transform them into Christian holidays. For centuries the church has designated All Saints’ Day as a day to exalt the saints. But because the Celts were reluctant to give up their end-of-summer celebration, which is called Samhain (October 31), the Church blended and fused Samhain with All Saints’ Day (traditionally celebrated in May) to evolve what is known as the Eve of All Saints, or Eve of All Hallows, or Hallow Even. The name eventually became Halloween. That is why All Saints’ Day has the ancillary festival of Halloween, the underlying purpose of which is to honor and remember everything that is past and gone and to begin life again.
The communion of saints is the focal point of All Saints’ Day celebrations. All of God’s people, on earth, in heaven, and in the state of cleansing (generally referred to as purgatory) are believed to be inextricably linked in a communion. Orthodox Christians and Catholics alike are steadfast in their belief that the saints are as full of life as those living in this world; what is more, the saints are continually praying for ordinary mortals.
The purpose of all such feasts is to remember each and every one of those noble souls and holy men and women who have departed from this world, whether they are officially recognized by the church as saints or not. It is a celebration of the communion of saints. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the communion of saints provides “a perennial link of charity . . . between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are atoning for their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on Earth.
Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.”