01 November 2010
In terms of Western Christian theology, the day commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven. It is a national holiday in many historically Catholic countries. In the Roman Catholic Church, the next day, All Souls' Day, specifically commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified and reached heaven.
Christian denominations celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints' Day and the Feast of All Souls' Day because of the fundamental belief that there is a prayerful spiritual communion between those in the state of grace who have died and are in heaven (the 'church penitent' and the 'church triumphant'), and the 'church militant' who are the living.
The first trace of a general celebration for the martyrs is attested in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. This custom is also referred to in the 74th homily of John Chrysostom (407) and is maintained to the present day in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The origin of the festival of All Saints as celebrated in the West however, now is said by the Roman Catholic Church to be somewhat doubtful. Eastern Catholics of the Byzantine Tradition, All Saints' Sunday (Greek: Αγίων Πάντων, Agiōn Pantōn), follows the earlier Orthodox tradition of commemorating all saints collectively on the first Sunday after Pentecost.
The feast of All Saints achieved great prominence in the ninth century, in the reign of the Byzantine Emperor, Leo VI "the Wise" (886–911). His wife, Empress Theophano—commemorated on December 16—lived a devout life. After her death in 893, her husband built a church, intending to dedicate it to her. When he was forbidden to do so, he decided to dedicate it to "All Saints," so that if his wife were in fact one of the righteous, she would also be honored whenever the feast was celebrated. According to tradition, it was Leo who expanded the feast from a commemoration of All Martyrs to a general commemoration of All Saints, whether martyrs or not.
This Sunday marks the close of the Paschal season. To the normal Sunday services are added special scriptural readings and hymns to all the saints (known and unknown) from the Pentecostarion.
The Sunday following All Saints' Sunday — the second Sunday after Pentecost — is set aside as a commemoration of all locally venerated saints, such as "All Saints of America", "All Saints of Rus", "All Saints of Mount Athos", etc. The third Sunday after Pentecost may be observed for even more localized saints, such as "All Saints of St. Petersburg", or for saints of a particular type, such as "New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke."
In addition to the Sundays mentioned above, Saturdays throughout the year are days for general commemoration of all saints, and special hymns to all saints are chanted from the Octoechos.
The Western Christian holiday of All Saints' Day falls on November 1, followed by All Souls' Day on November 2, and is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.
The origin of the festival of All Saints celebrated in the West dates to May 13, 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs; the feast of the dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated at Rome ever since. Evidence that from the fifth through the seventh centuries there existed in certain places and at sporadic intervals a feast date 13 May to celebrate the holy martyrs. The chosen day, May 13, was a pagan observation of great antiquity, the culmination of three days of the Feast of the Lemures, in which the malevolent and restless spirits of the dead were propitiated. Liturgiologists base the idea that this Lemuria festival was the origin of that of All Saints on their identical dates and on the similar theme of "all the dead". Evangelical Protestants generally regard all true Christian believers as saints and if they observe All Saints Day at all they use it to remember all Christians both past and present.
The feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III (731–741) of an oratory in St. Peter's for the relics "of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world", with the day moved to 1 November and the 13 May feast suppressed.
This usually fell within a few weeks of the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which had a theme similar to the Roman festival of Lemuria, but which was also a harvest festival. The Irish, whose holiday Samhain had been, did not celebrate All Hallows Day on this November 1 date, as extant historical documents attest that the celebration in Ireland took place in the spring: "...the Felire of Oengus and the Martyrology of Tallaght prove that the early medieval churches [in Ireland] celebrated the feast of All Saints on April 20."
A November festival of all the saints was already widely celebrated on November 1 in the days of Charlemagne. It was made a day of obligation throughout the Frankish empire in 835, by a decree of Louis the Pious, issued "at the instance of Pope Gregory IV and with the assent of all the bishops", which confirmed its celebration on November 1. The octave was added by Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484).
The festival was retained after the Reformation in the calendar of the Anglican Church and in many Lutheran churches. In the Lutheran churches, such as the Church of Sweden, it assumes a role of general commemoration of the dead. In the Swedish calendar, the observance takes place on the Saturday between October 31 and November 6. In many Lutheran Churches, it is moved to the first Sunday of November. It is also celebrated by other Protestants of the English tradition, such as the United Church of Canada, the Methodist churches, and the Wesleyan Church.
In the United Methodist Church, All Saints' Day is on the first Sunday in November. It is held, not only to remember Saints, but also to remember all those that have died that were members of the local church congregation. In some congregations, a candle is lit by the Acolyte as each person's name is called out by the clergy. Prayers and responsive readings may accompany the event. Often, the names of those who have died in the past year are afixed to a memorial plaque.
In the Roman Catholic Church, All Saints' Day is a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning going to Mass on the date is required (unless one is ill or elderly).