|All Saints and All Souls|
Saints – 1st November
1st November the Church throughout the world celebrates the Feast of All
Saints. This one day of the year is set aside to honour all those people
who are said to have lived the Christian life fully and are believed to
be in God’s presence.
its early years the Church gave special honour to the martyrs – those
Christians who died for their Christian faith and gave public witness to
it, especially during certain state-sponsored persecutions of
Christians. Each martyr was assigned a day of remembrance in the
Church’s liturgical calendar, when Mass would be celebrated in his or
her honour. The number of martyrs grew until, in time, there were more
martyrs than there were days in the year, so one day was set aside for a
remembrance of all martyrs. In some places this feast was celebrated in
Easter Week, to identify the martyrs’ achievement with Christ’s
victory over death in his resurrection.
the 7th century, Christians who were judged to have the lived
the Gospel as fully as humanly possible were added to the list of
martyrs, to be venerated as ‘saints’, i.e. holy people. These were
presented to their fellow Christians as models of how to live the
our baptism we have become their companions, and we are linked to them
in what is called the communion
of saints, or company of the saints. So the Church encourages us to
ask them to present our prayers to God on our behalf, because they are
considered to be in God’s presence, and their prayers for us are
presumed to be more effective than ours alone would be. The religious
practice of asking the saints to speak to God for us became widespread
in the Middle Ages, and since then has extended into our own era.
‘cult’ of the saints has had a great influence on Church art, music,
poetry, architecture (especially where a church is named after a local
saint), and on the development of church liturgy and religious literary
works. The people’s devotion to a particular saint often got an added
impulse when miracles, attributed to the saint’s prayers, were
approved as authentic by the Church.
the 8th century Pope Gregory III dedicated an oratory in St
Peter’s Basilica in Rome to all the saints of the Church. In time a
feast of all the saints was celebrated in England and Ireland on 1st
November, and this eventually became the date for the celebration
throughout the Church.
Souls Day -
the day after All Saints Day, we have All Souls Day, when we commemorate
our dead - those who “have gone before us marked with the sign of
faith”, as we say at Mass in the 1st Eucharistic Prayer. In
the Church’s early years there was a general remembrance of the dead
in every Eucharistic liturgy (as there still is today). The prayer in
those earlier times was a petition to God for the departed person to
share in the victory of the Risen Christ.
practice of praying for a particular departed person developed first in
monastic communities, where prayers would be offered on the
anniversaries of deceased monks. This developed further into prayers on
set days ‘for all the faithful’, and the day set aside for these was
usually in Easter Week, to link the liturgy for the dead with Christ’s
resurrection from the dead.
seems that the observance of All Souls Day, as we now know it, derives
from the instruction of St Odilo, abbot of the Cluny Monastery in
France, who fixed 2nd November as the memorial day to pray for the
deceased monks of all the monasteries in his care. From about the year
1000 this practice was extended to include all the ‘faithful
departed’, and became an official part of the Roman rite of the
the First World War (1914-1918) Pope Benedict XV, a leading peace
advocate, was so appalled by the ‘useless slaughter’ of that war
that he introduced a practice which allowed priests to say three Masses
on All Souls Day, so that they could keep up with the requests for
Masses to be said for the war dead especially.
on 2nd November, Christians around the world remember
deceased family members, relatives and friends; visit their graves and
place flowers on them; have Masses said for them, and ask God to bring
them into the fulness of life in heaven.
Paul J. Duffy SJ