Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Saints and All Souls

All Saints Day

Originally the word “saint” was synonymous with “martyr,” i.e., someone who witnesses faith in Christ even to death. After a martyr’s death, local Christians endeavored to bury the body in a tomb that would be accessible to the faithful. On the anniversary of the martyr’s death, Christians would gather to pray and celebrate the Eucharist “in memory of those athletes who have gone before, and to train and make ready those who are to come hereafter.” Eventually the memorial celebration of martyrs occurred in local churches that did not have tombs.

By the fifth century, there was already a feast of “all saints” in the East, on the Friday of Easter week.” By the eighth century, the church of “St. Mary to the Martyrs” in Rome seems to have celebrated a similar feast. In the ninth century, Pope Gregory IV changed the date of the feast to November 1st. From the beginning, those who had endured torture for the faith but had not died (“confessors”) were treated with great respect. Eventually Christians who lead gospel-inspired lives were often acclaimed after their death as a saint by a local church. The theology and the celebration of the feast emphasize the bond between those Christians already with God and those still on earth. The feast points to our ultimate goal – to be with God.

All Souls Day

This feast has been celebrated on November 2nd since the eleventh century for deceased Christians that they “may rest in peace.” At an early date, Christians had the custom of remembering their dead. Third-century Christian writers like Tertullian spoke of an intermediate place of rest where the faithful waited until the final judgment. In the same century there seems to have been some idea of deceased Christians who need purification before seeing God. From the 11th to the 17th centuries, the feast spread throughout Europe until it was finally adopted in Rome. The feast involves several beliefs: that some Christians while dying in peace with Christ might still need some purification, the prayers and good deeds of the living help those who have died, and that there is an intermediate place between heaven and hell. The Eastern church has usually insisted upon the need for growth in seeing God as characteristic of this intermediate state while the Roman Catholic Church tended to emphasize the penal character of this state. The liturgy itself is the best guide to the meaning of the feast. The readings point to Christ as the hope of the living and the dead. The liturgical prayers see new life in Christ as God’s promise that enables the Christian to face death with faith and hope. Ultimately the feast complements that of All Saints in proclaiming that all those who love God, whether living or dead, are united in a living communion with Christ and one another,.

(Both excerpts are taken from The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, c. 2005.)