HISTORY OF ALL SAINTS DAY
November 1 is All Saints’ Day, more commonly known as All Hallows’ Day. The night before is known as “All Hallows’ Eve,” or Halloween.
This day is also known as the Feast of All Saints, the Feast of All Hallows, the Solemnity of all Saints, and in the strictly religious sense, Hallowmas.
Origin of All Saints Day
Since the 4th century, when the Roman Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity, feasts commemorating those saints (Christian believers) who died for their faith were held in the Spring around Easter and Pentecost.
Pope Boniface IV, in the early 7th century, used May 13 to celebrate All Saints’ Day with the dedication of the ancient pagan Pantheon in Rome as a church to St. Mary. The celebration became a feast of dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres. Although the church is called “St. Mary and the Martyrs,” everyone still refers to it as the Pantheon.
In Britain and parts of Germany, November 1 became the day for commemorating all saints. In the 9th century, Pope Gregory IV extended this practice worldwide for the Catholic Church. By this time, the feast was for all dead saints, not just those martyred for their faith.
Even in modern times, November 1 is observed by not only the Roman Catholic Church but also Protestant churches like Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, and Reformed churches. The Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church celebrate it on the first Sunday after Pentecost. The Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates it on September 11.
All Saints Day Practices
As is common with feast days, the celebration begins the evening before (think Christmas Eve). In liturgical churches, vespers (evening prayers) begin the celebration on All Hallows’ Eve, or “Halloween.”
Graves may be decorated with flowers or candles for family members who have passed.
What’s the Difference between All Saints Day and All Souls Day?
As I mentioned in my article on Halloween, All Saints’ Day is part of the season of Allhallowtide, lasting three days from Halloween to All Souls’ Day. All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day share the Christian belief that the Church includes those saints who have died, the “Church Triumphant,” and those living, the “Church Militant.” Christians honor famous saints on All Saints’ Day, as well as ordinary saints who have died.
The Roman Catholic Church believes that there is a third group, the “Church Penitent,” meaning those believers who have died but now are in Purgatory, where they may be purged of their sins before entering heaven. Catholics pray for those souls in Purgatory on All Souls’ Day, as I explain in more detail in my article about that feast.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian