All Saints' Day: A Concise History
by The Rev. Greg Pickens, Associate for Pastoral Care
Saint Michael and All Angels celebrates All Saints' Day every year on the first Sunday closest to November 1. All Saints' is an ancient festival that first appeared in about 373 C.E. but codified by Pope Gregory III in about 740 C.E. From Pope Gregory forward, All Saints'' Day has had several iterations as the Church and theology developed. We know All Saints' initially celebrated the martyrdom of sainted people known to the Church. However, as the persecutions of Roman emperors arose, the Church began to explore a specific day set aside to ensure that all martyrs, known and unknown, were acknowledged.
In about 998 C.E., the Church discerned the need for a complement to All Saints' and appointed the feast of All Souls Day. In its earliest form, All Souls Day was set aside to solemnly celebrate those believers who had died and now resided in Purgatory, that place of preparation before entering into the presence of God in Heaven.
Both All Saints' and All Souls were fairly stable in meaning to the Church until the fall of Constantinople in 1485. By then, the antecedents to Luther’s 95 Theses and the Reformation would open a new era where people would begin to explore their bond with the Almighty in ways that invited contrasting views about God, worship, and the sufficiency of Christ Jesus in forgiving our sins. Our church, in keeping with the traditions of the English Reformation, no longer holds to the idea of Purgatory. All Souls Day has since become a day to remember and celebrate the lives of the faithful departed.
Saint Michael and All Angels has, in one way or another, kept the contemporary spirit of these two feast days. On the appointed day for All Souls/All Saints', the clergy of Saint Michael began with All Souls by reading the names of our loved ones who had died during the previous year. Immediately afterward, the All Saints' worship began with its festival procession.
As wonderful as it is to honor the saints of our parish family, it seems good to once again separate these two feast days so as not to lose the spirit of either nor the opportunity to celebrate both fully. This year, Saint Michael and All Angels will offer a full celebration of All Saints' Day during our Saturday Night and Sunday morning services where we honor all the living saints, known and unknown. On that same Sunday evening, a full and separate Evensong of All Souls will be held. There we will honor our loved ones who have died by reading their names aloud, celebrate with special All Souls Day music, and join together in worship.
We hope you will enjoy this opportunity to bless and remember all the saints, present and past during these special services.
The Reverend Greg Pickens
Associate for Pastoral Care
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