Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints' Day

All Saints' Day
[The vigil of this feast is popularly called "Hallowe'en" or "Halloween".]

This is a post about my spiritual beliefs which are as much a part of me as my art...I will be posting again later today about my gallery showing and about my newest favorite possession..."The Journey" by Miss Norah/Sharon...

All Saints' Day is a Christian holy day observed by many Western churches on November 1 and by Eastern churches on the first Sunday after Pentecost. The day now honors all saints of the church, even those not known by name. I thought I would share some history of the day and clear some misconceptions as to why Catholics pray to saints.

My All Saints' Icon

Christians have been honoring their saints and martyrs since at least the second century AD. The Martyrdom of Polycarp, probably written near the middle of the second century, attests to this reality. Initially the calendars of saints and martyrs varied from location to location, and many times local churches honored local saints. However, gradually feast days became more universal.

The first reference to a general feast celebrating all saints occurs in St Ephrem the Syrian (d. AD 373). St. John Chrysostom (d. AD 407) assigned a day to the feast, the first Sunday after Pentecost, where in the Eastern Churches the feast is celebrated to this day. In the West, this date was probably originally used, and then the feast was moved to May 13th. The current observance (November 1) probably originates from the time of Pope Gregory III (d. AD 741), and was likely first observed on November 1st in Germany. This fact makes the connection of the All Saints Feast with the pagan festival Samhain less likely, since Samhain was an Irish pagan feast, rather than German.

The vigil of the Feast (the eve) has grown up in the English speaking countries as a festival in itself, All Hallows Eve, or Halloween. While many consider Halloween pagan (and in many instances the celebrations are for many), as far as the Church is concerned the date is simply the eve of the feast of All Saints. Many customs of Halloween reflect the Christian belief that on the feast's vigils we mock evil, because as Christians, it has no real power over us. However, for some Halloween is used for evil purposes, in which many Christians dabble unknowingly.

David Morrison explains the proper relationship between Christians and Halloween. Various customs have developed related to Halloween. In the Middle Ages, poor people in the community begged for "soul cakes," and upon receiving these doughnuts, they would agree to pray for departed souls. This is the root of our modern day "trick-or-treat." The custom of masks and costumes developed to mock evil and perhaps confuse the evil spirits by dressing as one of their own. Some Christians visit cemeteries on Halloween, not to practice evil, but to commemorate departed relatives and friends, with picnics and the last flowers of the year. The day after All Saints day is called All Soul's Day, a day to remember and offer prayers up on behalf of all of the faithful departed. In many cultures it seems the two days share many customs. See the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church for more information.

Traditions and Customs
Visiting Cemeteries (All Hallows Eve)
Giving "Soul Cakes" to the poor (All Hallows Eve)

Sheaf of Wheat
Rayed Manus Dei (Hand of God)
Symbols of Individual Saints

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Isn't Celebrating All Saints Day Idolatry?

Most non-Catholics assume that celebrating the saints means somehow worshipping them. The Church has always held, East and West, that worship (latria) is to be given to God alone, and that we give veneration (dulia) to the saints, the highest veneration (hyperdulia) being due to the Blessed Virgin Mary. If someone is treating a Saint as one should treat God, then yes, that is idolatry.

That being said, the Saints of God do have a role in our lives, as intercessors before God. The saints are continually praying for us and interceding on our behalf. God is the God of the living, not of the dead. As such, asking a saint for his or her intercession is perfectly legitimate and not idolatrous, no more than asking a friend or pastor to pray for you is idolatrous.

Remembering and honoring the saints are also beneficial, because to remember the heroes of the faith and follow their examples is a good thing! Many seem to have a great hatred of remembering and celebrating the lives of great Christian men and women, yet have no problem fervently celebrating the lives of secular heroes like George Washington. All Saints Day is simply a day to celebrate the lives of all the great heroes of the Christian faith, and to celebrate the deep communion we have with them as they intercede for us.

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1 comment:

Grace said...

Love this post Rebecca. It was always difficult for me to explain why Catholics have so many saints and why we pray to them. You give a very simple and concise description that I will happily use from now on.