One foggy evening, when I was stationed in West Germany, I was driving through a fairly rural part of the countryside, when I noticed a rather eerie glow off to the right side of the road. As I got nearer, I realized that I was approaching a cemetery, and each grave was marked by a burning candle. I had passed that cemetery any number of times, but I had never seen it so beautifully illuminated. I later discovered that a local tradition was to place a lighted candle at the grave of loved ones on November 2nd – The Feast of All Souls’, or as we Episcopalians now call it, “The Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.”
Two venerable and beloved Church feast days happen this week – The Feast of All Saints’ and The Feast of All Souls’. All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows’ Day, is one of the principle feasts of the Church Year, and is set aside as the day when the Church remembers the saints of God – known and unknown. It is one of the few Feast Days that, when falling on a day Monday through Saturday, can be moved to Sunday (and, incidentally, it is one of the four Sundays especially appropriate for baptism.)
While the origins of All Saints’ Day aren’t known, its roots probably go back to the 4th Century, when a feast for all the martyrs was observed in May. It wasn’t until around 735 that Pope Gregory III declared a Feast of All Saints on November 1. While the Feast of All Saints’ celebrates the saints of God, known and unknown, who have died, All Souls’ Day celebrates relatives and loved ones (the “rest of us” faithful whose lives do not merit a day on the Church Calendar) who have died. All Saints’ and All Souls’ became inextricably connected – sometimes being called Allhallowtide or Hallowmas season, being observed on November 1 and November 2, respectively.
The Western Church began their observance of All Saints’ with a service of Vespers on the evening before, which would be All Saints’ Eve, or All Hallows’ Eve. It isn’t much of a stretch to see how simple, superstitious and pagan folk might embellish a commemoration of the departed with stories of tormented souls of the dead, demons and other evil spirits – becoming the festive day of Hallowe’en we’ve come to know and love.
The Feast of All Saints’ is especially important in the Episcopal Church. We often speak of “the Communion of Saints,” and All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day remind us of our belief that all Christians that ever lived, are living, and will ever be, are bound together in one Communion – the Body of Christ. All Saints’ and All Souls’ celebrates this bond as we continue the ancient practice of praying for the saints who have gone on before us and acknowledge that those saints in heaven are praying for us.
Please join us for our observance of The Feast of All Saints’ on Sunday morning, November 3rd, at 8:15 and 10:15. We will be observing The Feast of All Souls’ with a solemn Evensong on the evening of November 3rd at 7:00 pm. All are invited to attend this beautiful sung service, and to bring photos of loved ones who have departed this life and light a candle as a silent and visible prayer for them.