Festival of All Saints

Festival of All Saints

The FESTIVAL OF ALL SAINTS is a celebration of all Christian saints, known and unknown, to remeber especially those who have no special feast days of their own.  In most western churches it is commemorated on November 1.  Eastern churches celebrate it on the first Sunday after Pentecost. It is also known as All Hallows Tide, All-Hallomas, or All Hallows' Day.  All Souls’ Day, on November 2nd, commemorates the faithful departed.  Both days reflect the deep spiritual link between the church “triumphant” (already with the Lord) and the church “militant” (still ministering in the world) as described in Hebrews 12:1.

In the early days Christians met secretly and developed traditions of honoring the anniversary of local martyrs’ deaths.  However, during terrible persecutions, such as under emperor Diocletian, the number of martyrs was so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each.  One day was established to remember them all and some sources mention a commemoration of “All Martyrs” as early as 270 A.D.  The first recorded All Saints' Day was in 397 A.D., when St. Basil of Caesarea invited all the Christians of the province of Pontus for a feast honoring the faithful departed.

The first recorded church-wide All Saints’ Day was celebrated on May 13, 609, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated Rome’s Pantheon as a church.  The formerly pagan building was dedicated to Mary and all the martyrs, and May 13 was declared the Feast of Mary and the Martyrs.  Scholars believe the date may have been chosen by Boniface in an attempt to redeem the Roman Feast of the Lemures in which the malevolent and restless spirits of the dead were honored.

A century later, Pope Gregory III (731–741), who wasn’t comfortable with the connection to an occult holiday, moved All Saints’ Day to November 1.  However, that put it on the day after Samhain, a Celtic day of the dead much like Lemuria.  Devout Irish Christians wishing to avoid the association, chose to celebrate All Hallows Day on April 20.  Elsewhere November 1 became All Saints' Day, and eventually Samhain turned into All Hallows’ Eve – Halloween.

All Saints Day was made a day of obligation throughout the Frankish Empire in 835, by a decree of King Louis the Pious.  This meant that the faithful took off work to go to church on that All Saints' Day, just as for Good Friday, Easter, Christmas, Pentecost and other “holy days” (from which the English word “holiday” is derived).  In some historically Christian countries, All Saints’ Day is still a national holiday.  

Since Christians continue to be martyred around the world, the commemoration has retained its relevance to the current day. The liturgical colour is white for purity and holiness.

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